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Protecting and Promoting the Nation's Health: The Environmental Public Health Workforce as a Critical Component

Resnick, Beth A. MPH; Zablotsky, Joanna PhD, MPH; Burke, Thomas A. PhD, MPH

Journal of Public Health Management and Practice: November 2009 - Volume 15 - Issue 6 - p S40–S45
doi: 10.1097/PHH.0b013e3181b3492d

Introduction The practice of environmental public health (EPH)—ensuring food, water, and sanitation protections—is the traditional cornerstone of public health. From foodborne illness outbreaks to chemical emergencies, drinking water safety to extreme weather events, our state and local EPH professionals are essential to the nation's overall health.

Challenges Myriad challenges exist to ensure a strong, robust EPH workforce. Funding, recruitment, training, retention, retirement, and lack of public and political support threaten EPH workforce enhancements.

Opportunities Even in these challenging times, promising EPH opportunities abound. The Obama administration's agendas for alternative energy and climate change, students' renewed interest in public health practice and government service, technological and scientific advances, and increased public awareness of EPH threats offer opportunities to fortify the EPH workforce.

Recommendations and Conclusions We must act now to enhance EPH infrastructure and training to ensure safe food and water, healthy air, and protection from environmental threats. Future success will depend on new approaches, strengthened leadership, and coordinated efforts among all levels of EPH programs. We cannot afford to miss this opportunity to reshape and strengthen the EPH workforce and ensure continued leadership in protecting the environment and the public's health.

This article focuses on ensuring a strong, robust environmental public health workforce for food, water, and sanitation protections.

Associate Director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Excellence in Environmental Health Practice. Prior to her appointment at Johns Hopkins, Beth Resnick was Director of Environmental Health at the National Association of County and City Health Officials. (Resnick)

Data Analyst, Office of Data Integration and Food Protection (ODIFP), United States Department of Agriculture. She received her doctorate in Public Health from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in 2009. Joanna's dissertation focused on local environmental health department infrastructure in Maryland and the relationship between food protection and safety capacity and foodborne illness and mortality. (Zablotsky)

Associate Dean for Public Health Practice and Training and is Professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland, with joint appointments in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences and the School of Medicine Department of Oncology. He is also the Director of the Johns Hopkins Risk Sciences and Public Policy Institute and Chair of the National Academy of Sciences Committee on Improving Risk Analysis. (Burke)

Corresponding Author: Beth A. Resnick, MPH, 624 N. Broadway, Room, 457, Baltimore, MD 21205 (

© 2009 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.