Public health practitioner
Public health practitioners can have a huge influence on the health and wellbeing of individuals, groups, communities and populations.
The term “public health practitioner” is used to describe about 10,000 members of the core public health workforce who work in various areas of public health, including health improvement, health protection, and health and social care quality (often called "healthcare public health"). Although they work in different areas, what public health practitioners have in common is the level of public health skill and knowledge that they possess.
Public health practitioners work in many places and in many specialty areas of public health. They may support healthy lifestyle programmes, for example helping individuals and groups to stop smoking and take more exercise. They may work in local communities or in public health teams specialising in health protection, for example working on immunisation programmes and screening. They may also play an important role in national and local health campaigns. Other public health practitioners may work in the public health knowledge and intelligence teams in local government organisations and Public Health England (PHE).
Public health practitioners work with people from a range of organisations in the public sector, voluntary sector, and private sector to promote and support the health of the public.
Public health practitioner roles
Public health practitioner roles differ greatly in the work they focus on and in their specific job titles. Here are just some examples of the types of roles public health practitioners do.
- Teenage pregnancy co-ordinator
- Smoking cessation advisor
- Substance misuse worker
- Public health nutritionist
- Health improvement practitioner
- Advanced health improvement practitioner
- Health improvement practitioner (specialist)
- Health improvement practitioner (advanced)
- Health protection practitioner
As a teenage pregnancy co-ordinator you are likely to be responsible for supporting the targets defined in your local Teenage Pregnancy Strategy. You’ll engage with local people to develop and deliver projects and activities, particularly relating to sex and relationships education. This might be, for example, by providing increased access to contraceptive and sexual health advice in schools and community centres. You’ll also analyse information about the success of services, and make recommendations for the development of annual local work plans in relation to sexual health.
Teenage pregnancy co-ordinators are likely to require a Youth Work qualification (level 3) or a relevant health-related qualification, plus specific training in sexual health. They also require experience of working with young people in the field of sexual health or teenage pregnancy.
Working as a smoking cessation adviser, you’re likely to be involved in delivering stop-smoking advice in one-to-one situations, in groups, or over the telephone. You’ll be providing information on all treatments currently available, behavioural support techniques, and coping strategies. You may manage a caseload, referring to others for specialist advice as appropriate. You’ll be involved in planning and monitoring the care of your clients, and then evaluate the impact of your work. 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.
A smoking cessation adviser is likely to require education up to GCSE level or equivalent, and experience of therapeutic service. Other qualifications in counselling, education, social work may be desirable.
As a substance misuse worker, you’ll be responsible for providing appropriate 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, including schools and clients’ homes, may work with individuals and groups, and may deal with clients of different ages and from different backgrounds. You’ll be a strong communicator, and able to establish positive working relationships with your clients and their clients’ families to develop trust, confidence, and acceptance. You’ll take a creative and innovative approach to delivering the services you provide. You’ll also 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.
A substance misuse worker is likely to require education up to GCSE level or equivalent, and experience of working with people with substance misuse problems. Other qualifications in counselling, education, social work may be desirable.
As an expert in food and nutrition, your work as a public health nutritionist is to develop and evaluate community nutrition services that can help to bring about positive changes to people’s lives. Your day–to-day work is likely to be very varied and could include:
- carrying out research and 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 in relation to diet-related diseases such as obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes
- identifying opportunities for promoting health through nutrition (eg making sure children in schools and the elderly in residential homes have access to food that provides good nutrition
- training others (eg community workers, professional groups) in promoting the health benefits of good nutrition in communities to support positive behaviour change
- organising food and nutrition campaigns for example, in food stores or via the media
- monitoring and evaluating the impact of your work, and ensuring it aligns with local and national policies
Public health nutritionists have a degree in nutrition or dietetics plus equivalent practical experience in public health nutrition.
As a health improvement practitioner, you’ll contribute to local programmes which can help to bring about lifestyle and behaviour change (eg stopping smoking, diet and exercise). You may also be involved in working with specific groups, which will vary depending on the role and its locality. You may, for example, be providing specialist services specifically aimed at young people, the elderly, people with mental health conditions, or the LGBTI population. Your work could include:
- providing advice on health improvement to support the care and education of clients
- training staff
- working with external agencies, to influence how they can help improve population health
- keeping up-to-date public health information
- maintaining systems for collecting data about the health of their clients
- creating publications and reports about health improvement information and initiatives
They also usually have a degree in public health or a related subject or equivalent knowledge acquired through training, extended courses and experience.
Working as an advanced health improvement practitioner, you’ll be committed to supporting individuals and groups to bring about positive changes in their behaviour to improve their health. You’ll also work to reduce health inequalities (differences in the health of people or groups due to social, geographical, biological or other factors). Some of the kinds of work you might be involved in include:
- planning, delivering and developing specialist services (such as smoking cessation, sexual health)
- communicating important public health messages and marketing their service to relevant groups and communities
- working closely with other agencies to achieve their aims
- monitoring and evaluating the impact and outcomes of health improvement programmes and initiatives
As a health improvement practitioner (specialist) you’ll be working 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 ). Here are just some of the kinds of work you could 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 such as child protection, sexual health, 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
They have knowledge of public health acquired through a relevant degree, plus specific public health improvement knowledge acquired through training, experience or qualifications.
As a health improvement practitioner (advanced) you’ll be the lead specialist for your own health improvement area (for example, a programme that helps to reduce the incidence of falls, strokes, heart attacks and diabetes in older people; a programme that provides specific services in a socially deprived area such as an inner city suburb; or a programme that supports those with mental health problems).
You’ll identify the priorities for health improvement programmes across a range of organisations and community groups, and you’ll develop long-term plans for health improvement. Some of your work could include:
- promoting the involvement of the public in the development and evaluation of your public health improvement activities
- evaluate 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 sensitive information (for example relating to child protection, sexual health)
It’s likely you’ll also be a budget holder, and be involved in all aspects of staff recruitment and management.
They 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 receive notifications about communicable diseases (such as hospital-acquired infections, measles, TB, 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, and contribute to the collection and evaluation of data about the outbreaks. Other aspects of your work could include:
- providing advice 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 best evidence to other healthcare professionals (such as general practitioners, practice nurses, community nurses, health visitors, hospital nurses and clinicians and care home staff, environmental health professionals and social services staff) to improve the management of cases of communicable disease and to improve the prevention and control of infections in the community.
- giving advice on chemical incidents, communicable disease control, immunisation and vaccination; health protection matters
Health protection practitioners should have a degree in a relevant subject or an equivalent level of experience of working in a specialist area. They should be a registered general nurse, allied healthcare professional or environmental health practitioner. They may have additional relevant qualifications, in, eg, project management, training and development.
Want to find out more?
- Find out more about entry requirments for public health practitioner
- Find out more about skills needed by public health practitioners
- Find out more about training and development for public health practitioners
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Pay and conditions:
Pay and conditions of employment are likely to vary depending on the employer. For more information please view our pay and benefits page.
Working hours will vary depending on the precise nature of the role. For example healthy lifestyle groups may be held in the evening so that working people can easily attend.
Smoking Cessation Adviser: £18,838 - £22,016pa (Norfolk Community Health and Care NHS Trust, 2014)
Substance Misuse Worker: £21,067-£26,539pa (West Berkshire Council, 2014)
Health Improvement Practitioner (Healthy Eating): £21,478 - £27,901 + 15% high cost area supplement (North East London NHS Foundation Trust, 2014)
Advanced Health Improvement Practitioner (Smoking Cessation): £21,478 - £27,901pa (Plymouth Community Healthcare, 2014)
Youth Service Teenage Pregnancy Co-ordinator: £25,752 - £28,926 (Leicestershire County Council, 2014)
Public Health Nutritionist: £25,783 - £34,530 (Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council, 2014)
Health Protection Practitioner: £28,467 - £35,566 pa (clinical); £25,783 - £34,530pa (non-clinical) (Public Health England, 2014)
Infection Prevention and Control Practitioner: £30,764 - £40,558pa (Care and Support Partnership CIC (SEQOL), 2014)
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Public health practitioners have many opportunities to develop their careers. For example, if the practitioner has learnt how to support people stopping smoking they may be able to undertake additional training to be able to administer certain nicotine replacement therapies. They may also gain additional broader skills to help people in reducing their alcohol intake or improving their mental health. Practitioners may also develop their skills and expertise through more senior practitioner roles or go into management, service lead roles or leadership positions.
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In England, public health practitioner jobs are found in local authorities, Public Health England, the NHS and in the voluntary sector. Estimated numbers of public health workforce are difficulty to determine. An estimate in 2014 was that 10,000 public health practitioners work in England.
In Scotland, the main employers of public health practitioners are local NHS Health Boards, NHS Health Scotland, Community Health Partnerships and Health and Social Care Partnerships. An estimate in 2015 was that at least 970 people were working as practitioners or managers in the NHS in Scotland, of which 850 were working at AfC Band 5 or higher.
Where to look for job vacancies:
- Local Government Jobs (UK)
- Scottish Local Government Jobs
- Local Government Jobs in Northern Ireland
- Welsh Local Government Jobs
- NHS Jobs
- NHS Scotland Recruitment
- NHS Education for Scotland
- Health and Social Care in Northern Ireland
- Public Health Wales (NHS) Recruitment and Employment
- Public Sector Jobs in Wales
- Royal Society for Public Health
Recruiting for values
If you're applying for a role either directly in the NHS or in an organisation that provides NHS services, you'll be asked to show how you think the values of the NHS Constitution apply in your everyday work. The same will be true if you are applying for a university course funded by the NHS.
If you’re applying for a job in a local authority, each has its own set of core values underpinning its recruitment exercises, which can usually be found in the recruitment section of its website.
Note that terms such as ‘practitioner’, ‘manager’, ‘specialist’ and ‘consultant’ may have different meanings in different job titles. Therefore, they do not necessarily reflect the role category that the job really belongs to. It is important to check the person specification of the role to fully understand the skills and knowledge required.
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