Public health practitioners support the three areas of public health (health improvement, health protection and health services) and work across the public, private, voluntary and community sectors. There are around 10,000 public health practitioners in the UK who work across a number of roles and make up the core public health workforce.
Although they work in different areas of public health, public health practitioners all contribute to public health outcomes and promote and support the health of the public in different ways. For example, they may support local healthy lifestyle programmes, helping people stop smoking and exercise more. Or they might run immunisation programmes and screening in local communities.
Some public health practitioners also play an important role in national and local health campaigns or may work in public health analyst, knowledge and intelligence teams in local government organisations or bodies such as Public Health Wales, Public Health Scotland or the UK Health Security Agency.
Public health practitioners should have a degree in a relevant subject or an equivalent level of experience of working in a specialist area. They should also be working towards or have registered with the UKPHR. They may have additional relevant qualifications, in, eg, project management, training and development.
There are several public health practitioner roles available. Some examples include:
- Smoking cessation advisor
- Teenage pregnancy coordinator
- Substance misuse worker
- Public health nutritionist
- Health improvement practitioner
- Advanced health improvement practitioner
- Health improvement specialist
- Health improvement practitioner (advanced)
- Health protection practitioner
Smoking cessation advisors help people stop smoking long-term. If you’re working as a smoking cessation advisor, you’ll deliver stop-smoking advice in one-to-one appointments, in group sessions or over the phone. You’ll also provide information to your clients on treatments currently available, behavioural support techniques and coping strategies.
You’ll manage your own caseload and will plan the care of your clients, monitor their progress and evaluate the impact of your work. You may need to refer to other practitioners for specialist advice where appropriate.
You’ll need to keep accurate, confidential and up-to-date records for all your clients. Working with other local providers of health, social care and voluntary services, you’ll be passionate about how stopping smoking can make a positive difference to people’s lives.
To become a smoking cessation advisor, you’ll need to be educated to GCSE level or equivalent and have experience of therapeutic service. Other qualifications in counselling, education or social work may be desirable.
As a teenage pregnancy coordinator, you’ll engage with teenagers and local communities to develop and deliver projects and activities relating to sex and relationships education. For example, providing increased access to contraceptives and sexual health advice in schools and community centres.
You’ll also be responsible for supporting the targets defined in your local teenage pregnancy strategy and will analyse information about the success of local services. From this, you’ll be able to make recommendations for the development of annual local plans about sexual health.
As a teenage pregnancy coordinator, you’ll need a Level 3 Youth Work qualification or another relevant health-related qualification, as well as specific training in sexual health. You’ll also need experience working with young people in the field of sexual health or teenage pregnancy.
As a substance misuse worker, you’ll be responsible for providing information and support to people who have drug and alcohol issues, and to their families. This may include counselling, motivational interviewing, alternative therapies and therapeutic interventions relating to drug use.
You may work in many different environments as a substance misuse worker, including in schools and clients’ homes. You’ll work with individuals and groups and will likely deal with clients of different ages and from different backgrounds.
You’ll need to be a strong communicator and establish positive working relationships with your clients and their families to build trust, confidence and acceptance. You’ll take a creative and innovative approach to deliver services and you’ll work with other agencies to ensure your clients and their families have access to a range of services. You’ll also keep accurate, confidential and up-to-date records for all your clients.
To become a substance misuse worker, you’ll need to be educated to GCSE level or equivalent and have experience working with people with substance misuse problems. Other qualifications in counselling, education or social work may be desirable.
Public health nutritionists are experts in food and nutrition. As a public health nutritionist, you’ll develop and evaluate community nutrition services that help bring positive change to peoples’ lives. Your day-to-day work is likely to be very varied and could include:
- Carrying out research around food and nutrition
- Using scientific knowledge to provide advice and guidance about the positive and negative effects of food on health and wellbeing
- Contributing to local policies and strategies concerning diet-related diseases such as obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes
- Identifying opportunities for promoting health through nutrition, such as making sure children in schools and the elderly in residential care homes have access to nutritional food
- Training others, such as community workers and professional groups, in promoting the health benefits of good nutrition to support positive behaviour change
- Organising food and nutrition campaigns in food stores or the media
- Monitoring and evaluating the impact of your work and ensuring it aligns with local and national policies
To become a public health nutritionist, you’ll hold a degree in nutrition or dietetics and have practical experience in public health nutrition.
As a health improvement practitioner, you’ll contribute to local programmes which influence lifestyle and behaviour change. For example, programmes around stopping smoking, following a healthy diet or exercising regularly.
You might also work with specific groups depending on the role and its locality. For example, providing specialist services for young people, the elderly, people with mental health conditions or the LGBTI community. Your work could include:
- Providing health improvement advice to support the care and education of clients
- Training other health improvement staff
- Working with external agencies to collaboratively improve population health
- Keeping up to date with the latest public health information
- Maintaining systems for collecting data about the health of clients
- Creating publications and reports about health improvement information and initiatives
To become a health improvement practitioner, you’ll have a degree in public health, a related subject or equivalent health improvement knowledge from training, extended courses and experience.
As an advanced health improvement practitioner, you’ll help people improve their health by creating and influencing positive change. You’ll also work to reduce health inequalities (the differences in the health of people or groups due to social, geographical, biological or other factors). As an advanced health improvement practitioner, you might also be involved in:
- Planning, delivering and developing specialist services, such as smoking cessation and sexual health
- Communicating important public health messages
- Marketing the health improvement service to relevant groups and communities
- Working closely with other agencies to achieve health improvement aims
- Monitoring and evaluating the impact and outcomes of health improvement programmes and initiatives
As a health improvement specialist, you’ll be in a lead role for a particular area of health improvement. For example, specific services targeted at men, women or young people, or a particular condition such as diabetes or dementia. You might be involved in:
- Working with individuals, groups, communities and organisations to influence and improve population health
- Contributing to the development of local health improvement programmes including how they are monitored and evaluated
- Giving presentations and training on topics like child protection, sexual health and healthy eating
- Providing specialised health improvement advice to support the care and education of individuals, groups and communities
- Training, supervising and managing staff
- Developing publications and reports on public health
As a health improvement specialist, you’ll have a relevant public health degree as well as specific public health improvement knowledge from training, experience or qualifications.
As a health improvement practitioner (advanced), you’ll be the lead specialist for your specific health improvement area. For example, developing a programme that helps reduce falls, strokes, heart attacks and diabetes in older people or a programme that provides specific services in a socially deprived inner-city area.
You’ll identify priorities for health improvement programmes across a range of organisations and community groups, and you’ll develop long-term plans for health improvement. It’s likely you’ll also manage a budget and be involved in all aspects of staff recruitment and management.
Other responsibilities may include:
- Promoting the involvement of the public in the development and evaluation of your public health improvement activities
- Evaluating the effectiveness of your activities by undertaking detailed public health audits and public surveys, and analysing the results
- Using evidence to provide highly specialised advice to organisations and communities
- Communicating information relating to sensitive topics such as child protection and sexual health
For the role, you’ll have highly developed specialist knowledge of public health acquired through a relevant degree, plus a master’s qualification or equivalent training or experience.
As a health protection practitioner, you’ll be informed about communicable disease outbreaks such as hospital-acquired infections, measles, tuberculosis or flu; and then interpret, prioritise and act on them.
You’ll work directly with consultants in health protection to identify, investigate and monitor outbreaks of infection or communicable disease in the community. You’ll also contribute to the collection and evaluation of data about these outbreaks. Other aspects of your work could include:
- Advising on patient care, practices and procedures to manage incidents or outbreaks, and helping to evaluate the measures taken to control them
- Providing specialist advice based on the best available evidence to other healthcare professionals to improve the management of cases of communicable disease and the prevention and control of infections
- Advising on health protection matters including chemical incidents, communicable disease control, immunisation and vaccination
To become a health protection practitioner, you’ll need a degree in a relevant subject or an equivalent level of experience working in a specialist area of health protection. You’ll be a registered general nurse, allied healthcare professional or environmental health practitioner and you might have additional relevant qualifications such as project management, training and development.