Local Health Department Workforce Recruitment and Retention: Challenges and Opportunities


A new report finds that local health departments face significant workforce recruitment, retention, and succession planning challenges as they try to meet increasing service demands within continued fiscal constraints.

Health Policy and Administration Division, School of Public Health, University of Illinois at Chicago and the Center
Publication date:
Filed under:
Case Studies, Research Studies
Key findings:
  • Health department leadership is concerned about recruiting and retaining well-qualified employees and keeping currently funded positions.
  • Human resource rules and procedures and lack of opportunities for advancement pose obstacles to retaining well-qualified employees.
  • Recruitment strategies used by health departments are somewhat limited, particularly in smaller departments.
  • Formal succession planning is not widespread despite leadership and staff turnover. The majority of health departments rely on informal succession planning.
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This report is based on data analyses, survey research, and case studies conducted by the Health Policy and Administration Division, School of Public Health, University of Illinois at Chicago and Center for State and Local Government Excellence. Support for this report was provided by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The report draws on a 2012 UIC / Center survey of health departments on recruitment, retention, and succession planning policies and programs as well as data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the National Association of County and City Health Officials. It includes case studies of local health departments that have instituted succession planning and/or have been successful in recruiting and retaining the talent they need to carry out their public health mission.

Examples of successful approaches to recruitment, retention, and succession planning are included in case studies:

  • recognizing employee contributions through both non-monetary and monetary rewards
  • providing opportunities for leadership and professional development, flexibility, and autonomy as a way to motivate and retain employees
  • employing formal and systematic succession planning to retain knowledge and expertise
  • promoting public service and public health as a desirable career choice
  • iInvesting in organizational and leadership development
  • planning early for future workforce needs
  • investing in and developing talent from all parts of the organization and from schools of public health and nursing

Download one-page Executive Summary

Watch a webinar on the report