The challenges of recruiting and training diverse public health professionals due to education debt in the United States: a cross-sectional national survey

Publication Date


Document Type


Publication Title

American Public Health Association (APHA) 2022 Annual Meeting & Expo

Conference Location

Boston, MA


Background: During the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of the diverse and specialized public health workforce has been emphasized. Graduates of schools of public health, especially Doctors of Public Health, are an opportunity to find the next generation of public health leaders. Yet, the impact of student debt in recruiting into the public health workforce, especially for DrPH graduates, has not been studied.
Methods: We conducted a cross-sectional national study via an online Google Form, titled “Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) Funding Survey 2021, to understand the impact of student debt on career choices among DrPH students and alumni in the United States. This survey consisted of both quantitative and qualitative questions. To recruit participants, we used convenience sampling through networks of DrPH students and alumni. During September - October 2021, a total of 203 respondents’ (137: current students; 66: alumni) completed the surveys. For quantitative analysis, we used a descriptive-analytical approach and a chi-squared test of independence through RStudio to analyze the association between student debts and their impact on career choices. For qualitative analysis, we extracted common themes using an inductive approach.
Results: We found that 72.3% of current DrPH students (99/137) and 48.5% of alumni (32/66) did not have any funding support for their education. 5.1% of current students received full tuition and/or living expenses (7/137), while 9% of alumni had similar funding (6/66). Scholarship opportunities for a DrPH degree were limited, compared to similar degrees programs. Overall, student debt impacted 49.3% (100/203) of respondents’ career choices. Chi-squared test results were χ2(7) = 20.46, p = 0.005, highlighting that there was a relationship between student debt and career choices. Participants expressed the limitations of charter choices due to debt, the lack of recognition of the DrPH among employers and the public, and barriers to improving DrPH funding.
Conclusions: Student debt is an impediment to DrPH graduates’ career choices and participation in the public health workforce. Policymakers are expected to know the negative effect of DrPH students’ debt on their career choices to better allocate financial resources for the successful establishment of the public health workforce in the future.


Public Health and Recreation