Public health jobs: workforce issues

The following is a summary of the key issues identified in the Phoenix Research (2004) survey  (note this is a large report) of public health organisations that contract directly with the Ministry of Health, and the public health workforce in those organisations.

Summary of key workforce issues

Phoenix Research Report on whole public health workforce

  • Eighty-three per cent of people in public health jobs with public health organisations have some tertiary qualifications, but only a low percentage of people in public health employment have specific qualifications or training related to their public health jobs. 
  • There is no united public health voice to influence curriculum development in education and training.
  • The public health workforce needs increased skills and expertise to lead health sector and community action to promote and improve health and reduce inequalities.
  • There are significant inequalities in the availability of, and access to, public health training and professional development for those in public health and wider health jobs.
  • There is little collaboration between training providers, or between the public health sector and tertiary education providers. 

Maori public health workforce

  • Maori make up 33% of people working in public health jobs, yet are concentrated in lower-paid positions with limited decision-making power.
  • Maori are under-represented in some professional groups, in particular public health medicine and health protection.

Pacific public health workforce

  • There is incomplete robust and comprehensive information on the characteristics, numbers, location, occupations and workforce issues of the Pacific people working in public health jobs.  
  • Pacific peoples in public health employment are not well represented in some professional groups (e.g. public health medicine, health protection and in senior positions). 

Public health professional development

  • Overall, the public health sector has very weak and fragmented professional infrastructure and professional leadership; although some groups (most notably public health physicians) have a robust professional body.
  • A large proportion of those in public health jobs are unregulated, with little or no professional infrastructure, standards or career pathways. 

Wider public health workforce development - in particular the primary health care setting

  • Public health is no longer solely the domain of public health services.  Many more parts of the health sector and other sectors are taking responsibility for public health action, which means public health workforce development initiatives need to consider the health employment needs of a diverse group of people working in health and non-health jobs that include some public health work.
  • There is an immediate need for public health training in primary health care to meet the public health responsibilities of primary health organisations (PHOs).
  • Many parts of the health sector require an understanding of public health/population health to effectively address the current and future public health challenges in their health jobs.
  • Public health does not have enough trained staff to mount an effective response to, or work alongside, other agencies in large scale serious and unusual emergencies within New Zealand and the Pacific.
  • People working in public health and wider health jobs need training to strengthen the public health sector's capacity to manage such events and to be successful in their requirements of their health employment.

Public health workforce planning

  • There are presently no nationally consistent planning tools to assist programme planners, DHBs and providers to predict and plan for a public health workforce that will meet future public health demand. 


Supportive workplace cultures

  • There is a need for workplace environments that encourage recruitment, retention and ongoing learning and development.
  • Supportive managers and workplaces are key to the uptake training and career opportunities.


Improving public health careers

  • There is a need to increase New Zealanders' and the health sectors understanding of "what is public health".
  • The range of public health careers and public health competencies is not well understood. Recruitment and retention is an issue across all occupational groups.



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