Last month, the North Carolina State Laboratory of Public Health hosted a Student Health Day to expose middle and high school students from across North Carolina to the field of public health laboratory science.
More than 50 students were given hands-on opportunities to learn how laboratory professionals contribute to our society by tracking disease, protecting our environment, detecting health issues in newborns, and responding to natural disasters. But this event was much more than a field trip. It was an opportunity to present these students with exciting career options and to rebuild an aging workforce.
Since the early 1900s, many achievements in public health can be attributed to public health laboratories’ accomplishments in disease detection, food safety, and environmental health protection. These achievements have relied heavily upon the talents of microbiologists, chemists, technologists, and other science-minded individuals. The ability for public health laboratories to continue to make improvements to the health of our communities will depend on having educated and experienced laboratory scientists.
Within the next five years, dramatic workforce reductions are expected in the fields of epidemiology, laboratory science, nursing and environmental health. National trends indicate that laboratory vacancy rates alone currently exceed 20 percent and are increasing while the Bureau of Health Statistics predicts current vacancy rates will double over the next decade. Left unanswered, this public health workforce shortage will have a significant impact on our ability to protect the communities in which each of us lives and works.
Exposing younger students – middle or junior high level – to public health careers provides an opportunity to shape their educational choices and career paths. Top universities across the United States are adding public health undergraduate programs to their curricula. Those who may be driven to serve their communities, are science-minded, or have interest in communications, marketing, education, or business will likely find opportunities in public health.
Today’s public health leaders will rely upon the next generation to effectively meet the ever evolving and increasingly complex public health challenges that continue to face us. It is our youth who will provide the solutions for our well-being. For those who are seeking job satisfaction that cannot be beat, or outcomes that are rewarding, I encourage you to investigate the many opportunities that exist in the field of public health.
- Dr. Scott J. Zimmerman, Director, N.C. State Laboratory of Public Health