One Sector Where Pandemic Portends Job Growth



By Stuart Esrock, Ph.D.

As much as the COVID-19 pandemic is creating havoc in employment, it is also creating opportunities.  And one segment where jobs are multiplying is public health.  In fact, the Dean of the UofL School of Public Health and Information Sciences said, “The wave right now is very favorable for public health.”

At the same time, Dr. Craig Blakely acknowledges that has not been the case in recent years. “Public health has been a discipline where the formal public health infrastructure has been declining.  There was a big build-up post 9-11, a lot of investment in preparedness related to anthrax back then.  But if you remember there was a total of four deaths in the country related to anthrax.  And we had made this big massive investment.  That investment has been dismantled pretty systematically over the course of the last 15 years which left us woefully short of what we needed in place to face this kind of pandemic.” 

With the COVID-19 outbreak, Blakely said public health has regained a prominent public face.  “We are very visible again. The vast majority of the population is starting to see the wisdom of investing in public health infrastructure.  I think there’s no question that there’s an uptick in opportunity on the horizon.”

The uptick seems to have begun.  The Dallas Morning News recently reported a significant increase in hiring in the healthcare sector. For example, ZipRecruiter and Glassdoor both have seen a surge in positions related to the pandemic.  According to that newspaper, positions reflect a wide range of skill sets and salary levels, ranging from virologists and registered nurses to front desk workers who answer community questions.  Longer term, the News reports growing sentiment for a national public health workforce, similar to what was formed during the Great Depression, to help with prevention, detection, and response to viral outbreaks.  

Blakely said there’s already evidence of public health job growth in our community.  “There is a bunch of hiring going on.  For example, the city of Louisville is hiring for case tracking and contact tracing in the metro area.  The state is doing the same thing.    The city is hiring 100 people to fill a bunch of these public health case worker roles.   We’re positioning ourselves to get a bunch of our students hired part-time to do that because ‘a,' they would be well prepared to jump into that role and ‘b,'  they have a great opportunity to get some on-the-ground wonderful experience and be provided with a great resume builder at the same time.  Plus, we can include some of the international students that have language skills and can work with the refugee populations in our community.”

In addition to contact tracing positions, Blakely said there will be several other areas of public health job growth.  “There’s no question that epidemiology will be a growth area, the ones who are overseeing all of the research.  The other thing is that there is a lot of health-related data science, data analytics that is taking off now.  We are getting to the point now where we can much more effectively marry the financial records in health delivery systems with the patient outcome records.  And there’s going to be an incredible opportunity with the data to do almost virtual clinical trials.  We are also very much engaged in health delivery system management activities and that’s continued to be a growth area.” 

Beyond the growth in opportunities, Dean Blakely agrees that some students are drawn to public health, particularly now during the pandemic, by feeling something of a calling to the profession and a desire to help the community.  Regardless of the reason, he thinks the future bodes well for students of the discipline. “I think the next five years is going to be really good for public health.  I don’t think there’s any question that there’s going to be some infrastructure growth in formal public health.  There’s a wave now that we can ride for a handful of years.  It’s going to be good for students coming through public health.  I think it will also be good in a preparedness sense.  So yes, public health is in a great place for the next several years.”

For more information on public health careers, go to O*NET Online and type public health in the Occupation Quick Search in the upper right corner. Careers related to public health can also be found at What Can I do with this Major (Public Health).  Information on the UofL School of Public Health can be found at