Supporting Students and Young Professionals in Environmental and Occupational Health, Safety, Science, and Policy-Related Graduate Programs.

Author:Shendell, Derek G.
Position:GUEST COMMENTARY - Environmental Health project - Guest commentary


In 2003, following publication and release of Healthy People 2010 public health objectives, which included aspects of environmental health (EH), a revitalization strategy for essential EH services was published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Center for Environmental Health, Division of Emergency and Environmental Health Services (CDC, 2003). This 10-part framework included support of research and enhanced workforce development (i.e., training and continuing education). In addition, the Uniformed Services environmental health officers receive guidance for their transition out of the military and into civilian careers (CDC, n.d.). These documents, and many others since then (Heidari, Chapple-McGruder, Whitehead, Castrucci, & Dyjack, 2019; Resnick, Zablotsky, & Burke, 2009), have noted substantial challenges facing the EH profession, These challenges include recruitment and retention, including high turnover and movement between agencies or from public agencies to the private sector because of higher salaries,

In addition, there are many older practitioners retiring or approaching traditional retirement age, At the same time, jobs available in EH for specialists, sanitarians, and scientists (including various types of technicians) are predicted to grow about 11% between 2016 and 2026, which is faster than the national average across industries and sectors (U.S, Department of Labor, 2019), In other words, challenges and opportunities exist,

U.S, federal agencies, national laboratories, and research institutes provide funded opportunities for individuals with recently completed undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral-level degrees in environmental public health (PH) sciences as well as environmental engineering and related policy studies (CDC, 2019; Food and Drug Administration, 2018; USAJobs, 2019; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2016; U.S. Department of the Interior, n.d.; U.S. Geological Survey, n.d.), Furthermore, U.S. federal agencies, some national-level nonproht organizations, and research institutes provide information on EH careers and various scholarship opportunities for varying amounts of annual or one-time funding. Students can be in undergraduate and graduate programs involving EH and PH sciences, engineering, technology, statistics, and/or policy (Association of Environmental Health Academic Programs, n.d.; National Environmental Health Association, 2020a, 2020b; National Environmental Health Science and Protection Accreditation Council, 2019; National Science Foundation, n.d.; U.S. Department of Energy, Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, 2015, n.d.).

In summary, these EH workforce realities bring renewed attention to the need for engaging young people at the end of high school or early in their undergraduate careers in EH, as well as generally in PH and related allied health careers through their sciences, math, or statistics courses (Shendell, Gourdine, & Yuan, 2017). Students and young professionals need to know there are substantial entry-level employment opportunities with promotion potential in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields beyond traditional career pathways such as the health professions and laboratory-based research for EH professionals (Ahonen & Lacey, 2017; Resnick et al., 2009). Also, students and young professionals need to know environmental education and training for EH work, including in interpersonal soft skills, are related but separate (Knechtges & Kelly, 2015; Thomas, 2003).

Furthermore, there are employment opportunities in EH for students and young professionals who have earned a bachelor's degree and a certification in an area such as food safety/food sciences, industrial hygiene/ worker safety, general EH, and emergency preparedness and response (Marion, Murphy, & Zimeri, 2017). Moreover, STEM and EH employments need more representation by students and young professionals from racial and ethnic minority groups, who have perceived barriers to EH and have been discouraged by perceived or relatively lower EH job salaries (Haynes & Jacobson, 2015; Quimby, Seyala, & Wolfson, 2007). Overall, EH needs improved marketing toward and visibility among students and young professionals in U.S. universities and colleges in support of urban, suburban, and rural EH. These modern communications efforts must be online for mobile-friendly platforms.

This commentary shares the key lessons learned from an EH project conducted as part of requirements of the lead author for the Rutgers Leadership Academy (RLA) 20172019 cohort. Data from anonymously surveyed undergraduate and graduate students in the 2018-2019 academic year can...

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