Wanted: A Workforce to End Health Disparities

Posted on by Leandris C. Liburd, PhD, MPH, MA

Students exploring the field of public health work

A colleague and I were recently discussing “the good ole days” over lunch. We reminisced about the neighborhoods we grew up in, the influence of our families and friends, and how we dodged poverty, violence, and isolation. When I look back, my years in college were probably the most significant period of personal growth, hard work, and good times. I can also remember times of confusion and indecision—particularly as I struggled to declare a major. I had always been interested in a health career. During high school, I was exposed to physicians, nurses, physical therapists, and pharmacists, and decided I would become a physician. However, after receiving a C- in my freshman chemistry class, I knew the “pre-med” curriculum was not for me. During my junior year, I took a course in medical anthropology and was introduced to public health by my professor who was also a physician. I learned that “health” was determined by so much more than the provision of health care services. It was during my senior year in college that I decided to pursue a graduate degree in public health, and the rest (as they say) is history.


These are exciting and trying times for public health. Not unlike other sectors, we are expected to do more with less to overcome both longstanding and emerging health threats.

School of Public Health Graduates

According to the Association of Schools of Public Health (ASPH), by 2020, the nation will be facing a shortfall of more than 250,000 public health workers. They further estimate that, over the coming decade, schools of public health would have to train three times the current number of graduates to meet projected needs.

Even though we live in a nation with the most technologically advanced health care system in the world, not all Americans are benefiting from these advances.
Navigating health care systems
In light of the growing diversity of the U.S., we need a workforce trained to develop, implement, and evaluate public health policies and programs that accommodate differences in culture and health-related behaviors; to engage communities in the process of public health practice and research; and to pursue health equity. Language services are needed to assist persons with limited proficiency in English, and there are many who need help navigating the health care system. Health literacy, public health informatics, social media, and global collaborations to reduce health threats also contribute to eliminating health disparities and point to skills needed by the next generation of public health workers.

NUSPHP Students

Last September (2011), our office launched the “National Undergraduate Summer Public Health Program” to contribute to the pipeline of public health workers. The goal of the program is to expose undergraduates interested in health disparities to public health as a career option. Over 2700 students from all over the country applied for 200 slots. At the end of an 8 week practicum in a public health setting, the students gathered at CDC to learn about the domestic and global work of the agency. Their energy, enthusiasm, and curiosity filled the hallways. They explored career options, and talked with CDC scientists about their pathways to public health.

Students at CDC with Director

They made friends and established connections with seasoned public health workers and researchers. All indications are that the majority of the students walked away from this summer public health experience energized and more informed about the difference they can make in public health and in eliminating health disparities.

Community , putting the puzzle pieces together to benefit the whole

Cesar Chavez –Mexican American farm worker, labor leader, and civil rights activist– once said, “We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community… Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.” What else can we do to ensure a generation of public health workers with the skills needed to end health disparities?

Posted on by Leandris C. Liburd, PhD, MPH, MATags

15 comments on “Wanted: A Workforce to End Health Disparities”

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this site is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

    I have to express some appreciation to the writer, after surfing through the world wide web without finding answers addressing these difficult topics. Thanks so much for your reliable and results-oriented information. I will not think twice to endorse your web blog to any person who would need direction on this topic.

    I agree with you there is to much prejudice and healthcare disparities in the world right now. We definitely need more information regarding this. I was reading some information about this particular subject and I found some interesting things. We need to bridge the gap of care for minorities in this country. He goes on to say that we need to start with physicians and change cultural ignorance to clinical competence. It needs to be done with an evidence based support and focus on clinical quality measures. These are the things we need to focus on in this industry. I am grateful to have come across this website. Hopefully we can learn some good things.


    Romano, M. (2005). Diversifying healthcare: bridging the gap of care, treatment for minorities. Modern Healthcare, 35(7), 16.

    Howdy! I could have sworn I’ve been to this web site before but after looking at some of the articles I realized it’s new to me. Anyhow, I’m certainly pleased I came across it and I’ll be book-marking it and checking back often!

    I’d like to thank you for the efforts you have put in penning this website. I am hoping to view the same high-grade content from you in the future as well. In truth, your creative writing abilities has encouraged me to get my very own blog now 😉

    I blog frequently and am truly thankful to you for your content. This great article has really peaked my interest. I am going to take a note of your blog and keep checking for new details. I opted in for your Feed as well.

    Spot on with this write-up, I absolutely think this web site needs a lot more attention. I’ll be returning to see more, thanks for the info!

    Hi! I simply would like to give you a huge thumbs up for the excellent information you have got here on this post. I’ll be coming back to your site for more soon.

    I just want to say I am newbie to weblog and truly enjoyed this blog. Cheers for sharing your webpage.

    I’ve learned several excellent things here, definitely worth bookmarking and revisiting, a wonderful informative site.

    Ending health disparities – Seems we could make so much more progress if we weren’t so bogged down with the political hostility. Once our compassion and care for others supersedes all else we may make much greater progress. It would also help improve the numbers of healthcare workers.

    Recently, I read a report on The LGBTQ HealthLink that discrimination, in health care delivery, against the LGBTQIA population is common. The report states that one of the social determinants of health for the population is discrimination or harassment. A survey by Center for American Progress reveals serious impacts of discrimination or harassment on the population’s health care access. Economic disadvantage also negatively impacts the population’s access to health care as some members of the population had either skipped or postponed medical care on health care cost basis. The conclusion is that that LGBTQI+ individuals are faced with much higher rates of discrimination than non-LGBTQ individuals.

    The above information adds emphasis to your post about a wanted workforce to end health disparities. It is important for health care providers to be culturally competent when delivering care. Part of the cultural competency is showing respect to others who may not have the same belief, ideology or speak the same language as the provider. Health care providers have very important roles to play in reducing health inequality. The aim of health equality is to advance fairness, which can only be realized if everyone, regardless of race, sexual orientation, gender identity or cultural leaning, is treated equally. Everyone deserves respect from their health care provider. In addition, it is important to note that health equity cannot be achieved if discrimination in health care provision continues to thrive. Health care providers must do more to help individuals, regardless of their gender identity or race, reach their highest level of health. Thus, there cannot be a greater time of need for a workforce to end health disparities.


    Medina, C. & Mahowald, L. (Jan 12, 2023). Discrimination and Barriers to Well-Being: The State of the LGBTQI+ Community in 2022. Center for American Progress. https://www.americanprogress.org/article/discrimination-and-barriers-to-well-being-the-state-of-the-lgbtqi-community-in-2022.

    The LGBTQ HealthLink (n.d.). Discrimination Common and Impacting Health Access. https://blog.lgbthealthlink.org/2023/02/08/discrimination-common-impacting-health-access-lgbtwellness-roundup.

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

All comments posted become a part of the public domain, and users are responsible for their comments. This is a moderated site and your comments will be reviewed before they are posted. Read more about our comment policy »

Page last reviewed: March 3, 2015
Page last updated: March 3, 2015