The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
Contributors: MJ designed and conducted the study and performed the data analysis. RvH and JD supported conducting the study. MJ, MLEB and KS wrote the article with input from RvH and JD. All author read and approved the final manuscript.
Public health workforce planning and policy development require adequate data on the public health workforce and the services provided. If existing data sources do not contain the necessary information, or apply to part of the workforce only, primary data collection is required. The aim of this study was to develop a strategy to enumerate and characterize the public health workforce and the provision of essential public health operations (EPHOs), and apply this to the environmental public health workforce in the Netherlands as an example.
We specified WHO’s EPHOs for environmental public health and developed an online questionnaire to assess individual involvement in these. Recruitment was a two-layered process. Through organisations with potential involvement in environmental public health, we invited environmental public health workers (n = 472) to participate in a national survey. Existing benchmark data and a group of national environmental public health experts provided opportunities for partial validity checks.
The questionnaire was well accepted and available benchmark data on physicians supported the results of this study regarding the medical part of the workforce. Experts on environmental public health recognized the present results on the provision of EPHOs as a reasonable reflection of the actual situation in practice.
All EPHOs were provided by an experienced, highly educated and multidisciplinary workforce. 27 % of the total full-time equivalents (FTEs) was spent on EPHO ‘assuring governance for health’. Only 4 % was spent on ‘health protection’. The total FTEs were estimated as 0.66 /100,000 inhabitants.
Characterisation of the public health workforce is feasible by identification of relevant organisations and individual workers on the basis of EPHOs, and obtaining information from those individuals by questionnaire. Critical factors include the operationalization of the EPHOS into the field of study, the selection and recruitment of eligible organisations and the response rate within organisations.. When existing professional registries are incomplete or do not exist, this strategy may provide a start to enumerate the quantity and quality of the public health within or across countries.