An Assessment of Federal Environmental Health Training Resources

By Johnson, Barry L.; Tinker, Timothy | Journal of Environmental Health, December 1999 | Go to article overview

An Assessment of Federal Environmental Health Training Resources


Johnson, Barry L., Tinker, Timothy, Journal of Environmental Health


Abstract

In 1988, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) conducted a workshop to determine how many environmental health workers there were nationwide and what their training needs were. The workshop produced data on the level of training received, as well as on training needs projected for 1992. In 1988, the workshop found, a large majority of environmental health professionals had little or no formal training in their field. HRSA concluded that there was a shortfall in the number of trained environmental health professionals and allied workers.

In 1996, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Risk Communication and Education Subcommittee (RCES) of the Environmental Health Policy Committee conducted a survey to update the HRSA data and review the status of recommendations made in the 1988 report. RCES's survey yielded information from 15 federal government agencies and departments. Separately from the survey, the subcommittee also sought information about employment figures for environmental health specialists. Although in 1995 the federal agencies and departments responding to the survey provided $72 million in support of programs for environmental health training, only 23 percent of projected environmental health training needs were being addressed. The need for more training of local and entry-level environmental health professionals was found to be critical. Moreover, RCES found no indication that federal agencies have developed an integrated, coordinated strategic plan for supporting the training of environmental health personne l. RCES also found no current information on the actual number of environmental health specialists in the U.S. workforce.

Editor's note:

This special report was prepared by employees of the federal government, therefore, it is exempt from copyright protection under Title 17 of the U.S. Code.

Introduction

In 1988, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) estimated that the number of environmental health personnel in the U.S. workforce was 715,000. The estimate was based on information gathered from a workshop in which a broad sample of government agencies and private organizations participated [1]. Both public and private-sector organizations were taken into account, as well as technicians and operators. From these data, HRSA hypothesized that the federal government was not proactively taking steps to ensure training of workers at levels and in numbers that would provide for effective and comprehensive environmental programs; workshop participants indicated that an additional 121,000 professionals were needed in various environmental health specialty areas. HRSA's final report projected the number of environmental health specialists that would be needed in the future, as well as training needs for specific professional categories.

These conclusions were supported by another nationwide study conducted by the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA) with funding from HRSA [2]. The purpose of the NEHA survey was to identify departments of environmental health, the services provided, the number of full- and part-time environmental health personnel, job titles, levels of responsibility, and educational and training needs. NEHA mailed questionnaires to 2,198 local health departments, 50 state health departments, and the District of Columbia. All data were collected in 1987; they remain the only nationwide data on this subject.

The response rate from the states was not sufficient for NEHA to estimate the number of environmental health professionals who work for state health departments. Among local health agencies, 931 responded to the questionnaire (a 42 percent response rate); they reported employment of 10,656 environmental health personnel. An extrapolation based on the approximately 40 percent of local health departments that responded to the NEHA survey would suggest that about 25,000 persons were employed in 1987 as environmental health practitioners in local health departments. …

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