The Workforce Needed to Address Population Health

Centennial Issue
Population Health

Policy Points:

  • Although a single definition of the population health workforce does not yet exist, this workforce needs to have the skills and competencies to address the social determinants of health, to understand intersectionality, and to coordinate and work in concert with an array of skilled providers in social and health care to address multiple health drivers.
  • On-the-job training programs and employer support are needed for the current health workforce to gain skills and competencies to address population health.
  • Funding and leadership combined are critical for developing the population health workforce with the goal of supporting a broad set of workers beyond health and social care to include, for example, those in urban planning, law enforcement, or transportation professions to address population health.

Improving population health, or the health outcomes of a group of individuals,1 requires a competent, flexible, and robust workforce that is coordinated across systems of clinical care, public health, and social services. At a National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine workshop on the population health workforce in February 2022,2 speakers generally agreed that a workforce well-versed in the social and structural determinants of health (SDOH)4 to address health equity and that centers on the community is necessary for addressing population health. Reducing disparities and achieving health equity relies on a complex web of city, county, state, and federal policies and programs interacting with health care delivery systems, social services, educational systems, employers, and other stakeholders.3 Because relevant occupations that affect people’s health extend beyond both clinical and public health service providers to encompass a variety of community service providers and others, defining the population health workforce is a challenge. In this perspective piece, we discuss how the population health workforce has been defined, including which occupations have been identified as being part of the population health workforce, and where efforts have been proposed or implemented to integrate population health competencies into other occupations. We discuss the actions needed to recruit and retain a diverse population health workforce that meets population needs, and the policies needed to support this workforce to successfully address population health.


  1. Kindig D, Stoddart G. What is population health? Am J Public Health. 2003;93(3):380-383.
  2. A population health workforce to meet 21st century challenges and opportunities: A workshop. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. February 28, 2022. Accessed October 26, 2022. 
  3. Jacobson DM, Teutsch S. An environmental scan of integrated approaches for defining and measuring total population health by clinical care system, the government public health system, and stakeholder organizations. Improving Population Health. 2012. Accessed April 29, 2022.
  4. Rudolf L, Caplan J, Ben-Moshe K, Dillon L. Health in All Policies: A Guide for State and Local Governments. American Public Health Association and Public Health Institute. 2013. Accessed October 26, 2022.

Frogner BK, Patterson DG, Skillman SM. The Workforce Needed to Address Population Health. Milbank Q 2023;101(S1): 841-865.