Public health practitioner

Public health practitioners can have a huge influence on the health and wellbeing of individuals, groups, communities and populations. 

Working life

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 wellbeing. 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 practitioner with client

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

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.

Smoking cessation adviser

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.

Substance misuse worker

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.

Public health nutritionist

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:

Public health nutritionists have a degree in nutrition or dietetics plus equivalent practical experience in public health nutrition.

Health improvement practitioner

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:

They also usually have a degree in public health or a related subject or equivalent knowledge acquired through training, extended courses and experience.

Advanced health improvement practitioner

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:

Health improvement practitioner (specialist)

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:

They have knowledge of public health acquired through a relevant degree, plus specific public health improvement knowledge acquired through training, experience or qualifications.

Health improvement practitioner (advanced)

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:

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.

Health protection practitioner

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:

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.

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