We need to inspire more young people to pursue careers in public health care

New service programs are creating career paths for young people in health care, and they don’t require a 4-year degree.

There is a direct link between the so-called “skills gap” we hear so much about in the economy and my passion for connecting younger generations with the kind of meaningful work that will allow them to create their ideal lifestyle.

My mission is to help educators, employers and economic developers reframe the way they connect and engage with young people, to show them that there are many ways to pursue their own passions and causes that we simultaneously bridge these employment gaps.

One of the sectors that welcomes young people with open arms is health. Indeed, as we continue our recovery from the pandemic, we must increase our nation’s public health workforce to help build a more resilient future. We also need a diverse workforce of public health professionals who reflect the communities in which they serve.

That’s why I’m excited about Public Health AmeriCorps (PHA), a new partnership between AmeriCorps and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) whose goal is to recruit and train the next generation of public health leaders. .

“While young people have experienced many missed opportunities, dreams and milestones due to the COVID 19 pandemic, they have responded with resilience and shown a renewed interest in strengthening the field of public health as we recover from COVID-19,” says AJ Pearlman, director of the PHA.

In honor of National Public Health Week, I reached out to Pearlman via email to talk about the need to recruit more young people into healthcare and why this effort promises to be a win-win. for everyone, especially when it connects communities in need with the passions of young people.

Growing demand

Over the past few decades, there has been a significant increase in the number of students pursuing undergraduate degrees in public health, according to new research from the University of Minnesota, Johns Hopkins University and the Association public health schools and programs. This number has increased by more than 1,100% between 2001 and 2020.

This is great news, but it is also not enough to meet the current and future demand for public health workers.

The public health workforce is sorely understaffed across the country, which means we need more people, especially young people, to consider careers in this field to meet the critical needs of the community. A recent study by the Beaumont Foundation and the Association of State and Territory Health Officials found that state and local health departments need to hire an additional 80,000 people in order to adequately deliver health services. basic public.

To achieve these kinds of goals, it’s time to rethink how we inspire young people to pursue their career dreams.

Beyond the degree

To close this growing public health gap, we will need to explore ways to give young people the skills and experience they need beyond a traditional academic path.

I have met so many young people in my work who are simply not ready or interested in pursuing a 4 year degree in the medical field, especially when it comes to funding it.

But through programs like PHA, young people can access skills development opportunities beyond the traditional higher education pathway.

“We do this by providing practical experience and training in public health to young people while they complete a year of service, during which they are paid and given extra money that can be used for continue their education,” says Pearlman. , noting that his organization recruits thousands of young adults across America to gain first-hand experience in careers in public health.

Pearlman says that by participating in programs like PHA, young people have the opportunity to address today’s most pressing public health challenges, such as health equity, mental health and substance use disorders. , COVID-19 and more. Members also receive professional development opportunities, a living allowance, money for college or trade school, student loan deferral and interest forbearance, and other benefits.

“Through this model, we believe more young people from all walks of life will be able to access a career in public health,” says Pearlman.

Make the difference

One of the biggest draws for young people pursuing a career in public health care is the opportunity to make a difference. And there are few fields that offer the opportunity to have such an impact as when you can help someone in need.

For example, Pearlman shared that PHA members serving at Arizona State University are trained to work with survivors of domestic and sexual violence and are placed in local health departments across the country to build support capacity. to the victims.

At the Latin American Youth Center in Washington, DC, members organize health screenings where some communities face barriers to education.

In Colorado, members serve with Rocky Mountain Youth Corps and screen youth struggling with substance abuse to prevent addiction and its health consequences, disease, accidents, and injuries.

Other public health programs where young people are having an impact include implementing a comprehensive garden-to-table program in North Carolina to teach female veterans how to grow their own produce in communities at risk of food insecurity. And in Wisconsin, 30 PHA members serve as recovery coaches to combat the devastating effects of prescription drug, opioid and other substance addiction across the state.

“Young Americans care about many social causes directly related to public health impacts, and we help them identify those connections and reimagine the systems that reinforce inequities,” says Pearlman.

A Noble Call to Serve

Choosing a career in public health is a calling. It is a noble act of service on the part of the person who is drawn to helping others and making a lasting difference in someone else’s life.

“Service empowers individuals to turn their determination, compassion and creativity into practical solutions for communities,” says Pearlman.

For many people in younger generations, this is what their light at the end of the tunnel looks like: that motivating force that propels them forward to learn new skills and seek new experiences in pursuit of the lifestyle that makes difference they dream of.

When young people are inspired and motivated like this, they are literally unstoppable. And the more we can educate them about how it makes a difference in an area like healthcare that affects us all, our future will be very bright indeed.

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