Date of Award

December 2017

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Administrative Leadership

First Advisor

Barbara J. Daley

Committee Members

Simone Conceicao, Leigh Wallace, Geof Swain, Liliana Mina


Mentoring, New Employee Orientation, New Public Health Employees, Professional Identity Formation, Professional Socialization, Workforce Development


Public health is in unstable times with funding decreasing, an exodus of retirees, and a paradigm shift with emergency preparedness and response critically changing the identity of the profession. Public health is at a grave trigger point where if something is not done, the entire field may be in jeopardy of caving in to consolidations, poor succession planning, and a field that cannot work toward the health of the public if they themselves are not operating well. It is commonly accepted that orientation practices exist in public health agencies, but the orientations that currently exist lack transfer to full socialization into the practice insofar as employees lack the learning needed to build their professional identity. Better socialization can assist in developing leaders and retention in the field. It is incumbent upon health officers and other public health managers, the current public health leadership, to consider implementation of a variety of socialization efforts that include all of the above-mentioned components in practice to retain their workforce. With facilitated learning, retention and job satisfaction increases alongside the creation of greater identity building within the future public health workforce. With increased retention, more educated staff are able to help the communities that so desperately rely on the services that public health provides.

Little is empirically known about the professional socialization process and professional identity formation within the profession of public health. This study phenomenologically examined the professional socialization experience of eighteen local governmental urban and suburban public health employees, how organizational context played a role in their onboarding and induction, and how their professional identity formed as a result of the socialization and contextual experiences. Three major themes emerged. The first theme showed how public health professional socialization efforts are piecemeal at best, forcing new employees to new levels of resourcefulness. The second theme showed that new public health employees often experience programmatic and hierarchical isolation during an overwhelming orientation period and beyond, given a lack of support systems, silos, and lack of training on the bigger picture of public health. Both of these circumstances, when combined, result in the third theme - loose ties to the public health profession for employees between one and seven years of employment, feeling only a lukewarm insider status and their tenuous public health professional identity blowing in the breezeway. More importantly, poorly socialized public health newcomers may likely become someone else’s first boss in just a matter of years, thus perpetuating the cycle and defying a change in organizational culture.