PHIG Success Story: In Massachusetts, Building Public Health Infrastructure Starts with a Strong Workforce

June 18, 2024 | Elise Moore

Movement blur on a room full of professionals at a conferenceOpen houses are an opportunity for health departments to engage the community, foster trust and transparency, and build pathways for people seeking a career in public health. In late 2023, the Massachusetts Department of Health (DPH) held two virtual open houses—supported by the Public Health Infrastructure Grant (PHIG)—for students and alums of Massachusetts colleges and universities.

More than 400 participants connected with state and local public health officials in various panels and networking events. DPH’s Workforce Director Arnaldo Machado shared his insights, lessons learned, and testimonials from staff about the experience with ASTHO.

What strategies did DPH employ to engage participants?

ARNALDO MACHADO: The "Who's in the room?" activities helped engage the participants and highlight our focus on racial and health equity. We were very clear about the reason for that exercise: ensuring we are reaching the communities we serve.

The one-hour themed breakout rooms (15 minutes of staff presentations and 45 minutes of Q&A) were the highlight of both events. They fostered an interactive experience for participants.

The small breakout rooms allowed staff to meet participants on a more personal level to answer any questions or concerns they had. Staff shared DPH’s mission and strategic plan as well as a wide range of job possibilities. Some staff chose to share their stories on why they entered public health as well as their employment history that led them to where they are now. This allowed participants to see that not everyone had a traditional employment path or public health background before joining the department.

– Mirahnda Lombardo, Training and Onboarding Technician, DPH

What challenges did you encounter during the open houses and how did you meet them?

MACHADO: A significant challenge was overcoming the immediate results mindset, which can sometimes be in conflict with the efforts needed for pathway events such as open houses. Unless that mindset changes, we will forever be working on short-term initiatives.

A lot of times, people want to see immediate changes to hiring numbers. However, just as community engagement efforts do not result in enhanced public health outcomes overnight, pathway events yield results over time.

After each event, more than 200 prospective candidates for the public health workforce are better informed about career paths, the human side of the department, and how to get more help. We aim to dismantle the large institutional view many people may have of us as an organization in the distance. Hopefully, we took one step further, through transparency, in building a relationship of trust with those present.

So, we don't only measure the event's success based on immediate hires. Rather success is in the reach of our events, which will bear fruit for years to come.

The energy and enthusiasm displayed by the students we met was really exciting! Facilitating connections between motivated individuals and hands-on experiences within DPH not only benefits them as they embark on their professional journeys but also contributes to the enrichment of DPH's workforce. It's a win-win scenario form them and us!

– Christine Beluk, Academic Health Department Manager, DPH

What insights have you gained from the post-event evaluation survey?

MACHADO: My biggest measures were the levels of participation and overall satisfaction with the event. The participation rate of attendees versus registrants was around 50%, which is the average for DPH during recruitment events. We filled those registrations relatively quickly with minimal promotion to social networks and leveraging our academic health department partnerships. We also saw the satisfaction ratings grow between the first and second events.

Participants appreciated the transparency in the hiring process presentations and felt more prepared to apply for DPH jobs. They also loved the opportunity to connect with people who worked in the department.

Participants also asked for the opportunity to participate in more than one breakout session—and even though that opportunity was available at the second event, it came at the cost of losing content since all breakout sessions were concurrent. We resourced some of the session, so people won't have to experience repetitive content in the future.

I have personally connected with multiple people who were interested in working at DPH, and who felt comfortable reaching out to me for more information after participating in the open house. This is a great way to engage the future public health workforce and to spread the word about the great work your department is doing!

– Brett Turner, Public Health Workforce Evaluation Manager, DPH

Looking ahead, how do you anticipate leveraging PHIG funding to promote public health careers and engage with students and alumni from Massachusetts colleges and universities?

MACHADO: With a shift to skills-based hiring in Massachusetts, I am thinking much beyond formal academic institutions for future outreach. We will continue to invest in academic pathways, and our academic health department manager is committed to that. Still, we are also forging partnerships with local career centers and veteran service programs and planning to reach young adults in the K-12 system.

Additionally, we are using PHIG funding to implement significant career promotion efforts on our website through workforce highlights and clarification on many roles in the department. For year two of the grant, we have identified employees in nine domains determined by need—measured in long-time-to-hire metrics tracked for PHIG—and by strategic alignment.

PHIG recipients interested in learning more about Massachusetts’s experience can reach out to the team at