NNPHI Member Institute Helps Kentucky Department of Health Evaluate Student Pipelines to Public Health Careers

In 2022, the Kentucky Department for Public Health (KDPH) began implementing strategies to increase awareness of public health careers among high school and college students and to establish pathways for young professionals to enter the public health workforce. Two programs are central to these efforts: KDPH’s Kentucky Public Health Exploration Program and Student Internship Program. Now, KDPH will use technical assistance and guidance provided through NNPHI member institutes and the Public Health Infrastructure Grant (PHIG) to evaluate the impact and success of these programs.

Both programs work to help students envision themselves in public health careers. The Kentucky Public Health Exploration Program provides education to high school students, parents, and educators about the many career opportunities available within the public health field. In collaboration with local, state, and national agencies, this program provides public health career presentations, workshops, and hands-on activities at conferences, camps, and other events.

“Traditionally, public health has not been incorporated into high school career exploration,” said KDPH’s Workforce Development Health Educator Madison Yerges. “The focus has commonly been on careers in clinical medicine, and while these professions are important and worth pursuing, public health professionals know that our field is equally important. Teaching public health in the formative high school years is a fantastic way to encourage students to start thinking about their future careers.”

The Student Internship Program established opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students across multiple offices and divisions within KDPH. The program also collaborates with colleges and universities across Kentucky to establish experiential learning opportunities in public health for college students.

Thus far, the Kentucky Public Health Exploration Program has reached over 1,200 high school students, while the Student Internship Program expanded from six internships in 2022 to 42 paid internships in 2023. While these early successes are promising, KDPH will work with one of NNPHI’s PHIG Regional Innovation Hubs, the Mississippi Public Health Institute, to determine the degree to which these programs lead participants to eventually find employment with a public health agency (local, state, federal, private, or international). These two programs represent a strategic and sustained approach to expanding the public health workforce and may serve as a model for others to follow as they seek to help more students and young professionals see how they could thrive in the field of public health.

For more information, email Madison Yerges, MPH, MHA, Workforce Development Health Educator, or Lindsey Brewer, Student Internship Program Coordinator.

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