Building an effective workforce: a systematic review of public health workforce literature

Am J Prev Med. 2012 May;42(5 Suppl 1):S6-16. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2012.01.020.


Context: The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation commissioned a systematic review of public health workforce literature in fall 2010. This paper reviews public health workforce articles published from 1985 to 2010 that support development of a public health workforce research agenda and address four public health workforce research themes: size and composition, effectiveness and health impact, demand, and policy.

Evidence acquisition: PubMed, ERIC, and Web of Science databases were used to search for articles; Google search engine was used to identify gray literature. The study used the following inclusion criteria: (1) the document was published in the U.S.; (2) the main theme(s) of the article address public health workforce research or relate to at least one of the four workforce research themes; and (3) the article focuses on the domestic workforce.

Evidence synthesis: A total of 126 public health workforce articles and gray literature documents were analyzed in this review, including 34 related to effectiveness and health impact, 32 summary articles, 30 articles on size and composition, 20 articles about demand, and 10 policy articles. The primary sources for identifying articles were PubMed (66%); Google (28%); and Web of Science (6%).

Conclusions: The majority of public health workforce articles are descriptive in nature; few empirical studies about the public health workforce have been published in the peer-reviewed literature. Future research should consider use of organizational theories to develop workforce capacity models for public health and development of quantifiable output measures on which to base models that incorporate workforce demand.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Databases, Bibliographic
  • Health Services Research*
  • Humans
  • Public Health*
  • United States
  • Workforce