Public health consultants and specialists

Public health specialists and consultants help people and communities maximise their potential for a healthy, happy and productive life, so they can live healthier for longer. 

You’ll focus on health at a population level, looking at ways to make communities and environments healthier, reducing ill-health and tackling health inequalities.

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Life as a public health specialist and consultant

Public health specialists and consultants are strategists, senior managers or senior scientists in public health. You’ll need skills and knowledge in health protection, health improvement and healthcare public health but, in practice, you may specialise in one area.

Public health specialists come from a wide range of backgrounds, and may or may not hold a medical degree. 

You could be employed in different sectors, including local government, central government or its executive agencies, the NHS, universities, the defence services, the private sector or the voluntary and social enterprise sector.

As a public health specialist or consultant, you’ll work with a range of organisations to: 

  • deal with complex public health issues
  • either lead or work with senior colleagues to plan and deliver policies and programmes (‘interventions’) that aim to influence the health of groups of people (‘populations’) at local, regional and national levels
  • plan and lead the evaluation of such programmes
  • provide professional, evidence-based and ethical advice to guide the commissioning of services, ensuring that they are high-quality, clinically safe, cost-effective, and that they will improve health and wellbeing and reduce health inequalities across primary care, secondary care, and social care
  • lead on gathering and interpretating information

One area you could specialise in is epidemiology, leading on projects to tackle outbreaks of disease or environmental hazards. You’ll investigate their origins, assess the relative effectiveness and cost of different approaches to tackling them, and make recommendations for action. This type of work is currently very high profile, given the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Your work will have a large management and leadership element, and you’ll be responsible for departmental budgets, managing staff, delivering core training and commissioning research projects.

How much can I earn?

As a specialist working at consultant level in the NHS, your salary will be between £84,559 and £114,003. 

If you choose specialty training as a route to consultant level, you can expect to earn a salary of at least £39,467 during your training. 

How about the benefits?

  • making a difference
  • flexible and part-time working
  • high income early in your career  
  • working anywhere in the world  
  • excellent pension scheme
  • good holiday entitlement

Must-have skills

  • flexibility to cope with multiple and changing demands
  • ability to meet tight deadlines
  • high level of intellectual rigour
  • political awareness, tact and diplomacy
  • ability to understand a range of cultures
  • ability to work across organisational and geographic boundaries
  • ability to advise, challenge and advocate
  • negotiation and motivation skills
  • ability to influence without having direct authority.

The Public Health Skills and Knowledge Framework (PHSKF) describes the functions and activities carried out by people working to protect and promote the public’s health across the UK. 

Entry requirements

You can become a public health specialist from a wide variety of backgrounds including medicine, dentistry, nursing, research, teaching, science and environmental health. 

The specialty training programme is open to non-medical and medical applicants. It usually lasts five years and you may be able to train part-time, for example, for health reasons or due to caring responsibilities. You will need to have one of the following:

  • a first degree at 1st or 2:1 
  • a Master’s or PhD
  • a degree in medicine or equivalent medical qualification

"Public health specialty training is fairly competitive, and non-medical applicants make up about half of those taken on each year. During the selection process it is important to be able to demonstrate a commitment to public health and basic competence in a variety of skills relevant to the field (for example communication, problem solving, management and research)".

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What are my chances of starting a career in public health?

In 2020, there were 933 applications for 77 NHS specialty training places. 

How to become a public health specialist and consultant

To hold professional registration as a public health specialist, you’ll need to go through an approved programme of study or a portfolio route. To be a consultant in public health, you must also hold a professional registration at public health specialist level with either the General Medical Council (GMC), the General Dental Council (GDC) or the UK Public Health Register (UKPHR) as appropriate.

See the UKPHR and Faculty of Public Health websites for more information on specialist registration. 

Where a career as a public health specialist and consultant can take you

You could: 
  • specialise or conduct research in areas such as dental public health, infectious diseases and hazards (epidemiology) or health improvement
  • teach public health students or postgraduate students in training 
  • strategic and leadership positions
  • get involved in research at universities, in the NHS or private sector

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