Shape the public health laboratory system’s role
Bolstering the Public Health Laboratory
Workforce Through Inclusion
To support better health outcomes for all communities, APHL has centered diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) principles in its operations and programs this year. Staff workgroups integrated DEI principles into APHL’s core values, developed strategies and resources to build a culture of inclusivity, and identified specific steps and benchmarks to ensure that equity, social justice and accessibility are reflected in all levels of organizational and laboratory operations. APHL also provided tools and resources to help member laboratories undertake DEI efforts and work to better represent and serve their communities.
“There is a deep connection between DEI and public health,” said Lucy Maryogo-Robinson, director of Global Health and co-leader of the APHL’s staff DEI group. “Public health laboratories have always been very focused on the samples that come in for testing. But we’re now paying closer attention to the communities where those samples come from—or in some cases, where they may not be coming from—and being more proactive about effecting change.”
Strong public health laboratory systems require an engaged, diverse workforce. APHL’s Workforce Committee has been developing a variety of programs to recruit talented individuals, foster supportive workplaces and help staff build lifelong careers in laboratory science. These workforce progression efforts aim to highlight the many different options available in public health laboratories, outline possible career paths from entry to retirement, and provide opportunities for people with different backgrounds, skillsets and life experiences to succeed and advance, said Cathy Johnson, APHL’s director of Training and Workforce Development. “With the number and variety of programs you can go into, the world really is open to you when you work in the laboratory,” she said.
A huge boost this year came from the American Rescue Plan, which provides $282 million over five years for the Public Health Laboratory Workforce Pipeline Project. These funds are supporting an expanded APHL-CDC Laboratory Fellowship Program that will place hundreds of post-graduates in host laboratories for one to two years, where they will receive training in core laboratory competencies and work on site-specific projects. An initial round of rapid recruitment secured 18 fellow placements starting in February 2022 in the areas of bioinformatics, infectious disease, newborn screening and environmental health. The program is slated to expand this summer with around 250 fellows in up to eight tracks. In addition, a new internship program for students and young professionals has already matched about 20 undergraduates and recent graduates for shorter-term laboratory positions, with another 100 interns expected to start in the summer.
One major goal of these programs is to increase the diversity of the public health laboratory workforce. “They give us an opportunity to look closely at ways we can recruit,” Johnson said, such as building relationships with historically Black colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions, and tribal colleges and universities. APHL is also working with a variety of academic partners to bolster pipelines into scientific programs, especially for members of historically underrepresented groups, and identify ways to promote the internship and fellowship programs to current students in related fields, such as microbiology and chemistry.
Other efforts are focused on supporting mid-career laboratorians and training people for management and leadership positions. During the pandemic, a split cohort of the Emerging Leader Program pursued two separate projects, both focused on building inclusive, collaborative cultures within public health laboratories. One created a series of resources about DEI and highlighted the experiences of minority-identifying laboratorians. The other project, acknowledging widespread shifts in work schedules, organizational structures and teams during the pandemic to accommodate new workflows and distancing restrictions, assembled a toolkit for member laboratories to strengthen teambuilding, employee engagement and morale.
High turnover in laboratory director positions and other leadership roles during the pandemic also intensified the need for qualified people to fill those jobs. The APHL continued to support an online Doctorate of Public Health program, run through the University of South Florida, to help public health laboratory leaders with required experience and skills obtain the doctorate degree needed to be qualified for a director position. APHL leaders also run a “boot camp” to help individuals prepare to be certified by an approved board, such as the American Board of Bioanalysis or American Board of Medical Microbiology, to be a laboratory director of high complexity testing.
“We want to give our public health laboratory partners tools and ideas to create a workplace environment where staff feel supported, valued and able to move upward and succeed in a career as a public health laboratorian,” Johnson said. “That is what I wish for all up-and-coming laboratorians.”