April 2, 2024

In 2021, NWCPHP partnered with the de Beaumont Foundation to help conduct the Public Health Workforce Interests and Needs Survey (PH WINS).

First administered in 2014, and then again in 2017, PH WINS is the only nationally conducted survey of the public health workforce. The survey examines public health professionals’ views on issues such as engagement and morale, training needs, and emerging concepts in the field. The 2021 survey findings included expanded data collection among local health departments in the Northwest and the Upper Midwest and cast an important spotlight on the stresses and burnout practitioners were experiencing as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

PH WINS will be conducted again later this year. By committing to participate in the survey, health departments will complete tasks in May, July, and September when the survey will launch. In preparation for the 2024 launch, NWCPHP Director, Betty Bekemeier, and Evaluation Manager, Megan Rogers, discussed the impacts past surveys have had on our understanding of the public health workforce and the importance of participating again this year.

“The 2021 results have allowed us to look closely at several trends impacting public health practitioners, both at the national level as well as across the Northwest,” Megan explained. “One area that stood out to us was the discrepancies between rural and urban workforces. Not surprisingly, practitioners in rural Alaska were facing very different challenges from those in Seattle or Portland, and we’ve drawn heavily on the data pertaining to these differences as we’ve developed NWCPHP’s outreach and education programs.”
“The 2021 results showed us that we have a workforce in need of more support,” Betty noted. “Rural and urban, at both the national and regional levels, the pandemic has taken a huge toll on the public health workforce, and many organizations and associations are waking up to the severity of these impacts on practitioners.”

“The data from PH WINS have also allowed us to take a more nuanced look at the region’s workforce,” Betty continued. “We can drill down on the specific strengths, needs, and issues impacting different public health roles. If you’re a manager or administrator, this is the sort of information you want to have about your workforce, and it’s been standing room only when we’ve presented these data at public health association meetings, workshops, and webinars.”

In 2023, NWCPHP held a Hot Topics in Practice webinar that shared the findings of the 2021 survey. The presentation examined how training, education, and support may need to be tailored differently for rural practitioners and consider policies that could help build and strengthen the workforce. In 2024, a follow-up webinar about PH WINS discussed recommendations to improve workforce development and training, such as explicit naming of the effects of structural racism, application of new concepts, and skill development.

NWCPHP will have staff members available to help organizations increase their survey participation once again in 2024. Once the data are collected and analyzed, the findings will be made available to agencies across the region relative to their size and participation. “Our hope for this year is to have even greater participation than we had in 2021,” Megan said. All ten regions are invited to participate this year. “The more data we can collect, the more we’re able to pinpoint needs and concerns specific to our region, as well as deliver more specific findings to health departments.”

"The short survey will take staff about 15-20 minutes to complete and is a great way for agencies to evaluate their workforce without having to spend additional money on a separate training needs assessment,” Megan continued. This information can also be used to keep staff and organizations up-to-date on accreditation requirements for training needs assessments.

“PH WINS can be a very useful tool to assess the skills and needs of a workforce in a particular area,” Betty said. “But it also reaches beyond skills and looks at practitioners’ overall health. If you’re a manager or administrator, you want to know about your workers’ mental health. Are they overly stressed? Are they engaged and satisfied with their work? Are there things you can do that might improve their day-to-day experience?”

“I can’t stress enough how essential this information is for our understanding of the public health workforce, at both the national and regional levels,” Betty added. “We’re hopeful agencies will take part in this survey as it can be such a vital tool for improving the level of care we’re able to provide in our communities.”

For more information on how past PH WINS findings have been analyzed and applied to public health work, watch NWCPHP’s archived Hot Topics in Practice webinars from January 2023 and January 2024.