Real-life story - Nicola Gordon
Nicola works as a public health practitioner in Cardiff. She works with a wide range of organisations and professionals with the aim of improving the health and wellbeing of the population of Wales.
How I got into the role
The first step I took in my career was to study for a degree in health. One of the modules in that degree was health promotion and it was that that sparked my interest in the promotion of health and wellbeing. I went on to do a Master’s degree in health promotion and while doing this I did work experience with a local health promotion team.
My first paid role in public health was that of a community health development worker within a local public health team. I then went on to become a health promotion officer and from there went into local government and became a health improvement officer. I then returned to the health sector as a senior public health practitioner, which led to my current role.
What I do
I work as a principal public health practitioner for Public Health Wales. It’s a national role within the Health and Healthcare Improvement Team in Cardiff, which aims to improve the health and wellbeing of the population of Wales. The role is largely about changing health services and putting health policy into practice.
I work with many different people including wider teams within Public Health Wales (such as the observatory and health protection), the Welsh Government, health professionals (including nurses, midwives, health visitors and GPs) and with local authorities and staff from the voluntary sector.
My role is about 50% desk based and 50% going to meetings, but now a lot of video conferencing is used to cut down on travel-time and to help improve the environment. I love the variation that the role brings, the new areas of work and different directions, but I do have to juggle many different topics and pieces of work.
The best bits and challenges
I am appreciative that I have always had supportive managers who have provided me with development opportunities and allowed me to continue studying and do top-up modules so that I could move forward and develop my career. I am proud of the fact that I was the first person to complete and have my portfolio accepted for registered public health practitioner status in the UK. I am currently undertaking a professional leadership programme that is being run by Public Health Wales. I am also very proud of the projects that I have been involved in, particularly the Community Connectors Project, which was a project about using digital technology; we mapped and used social networks to convey health messages.
The biggest challenge that you face in this kind of work is that you can’t do it all on your own; you need to work with a range of professionals to improve the health of the population. It’s important to ensure that you have a shared goal and support others to understand their contribution to public health and what they need to do or change to improve the health of the nation. An example of this would be working with health professionals to ensure they have the skills to confidently raise wider health issues, such as obesity as part of their everyday role.
Life outside work
I do many activities outside work, including walking, theatre-going, and spending time with my family. I leave work at work.
Career plans and top tips for others
I think that the most important attributes needed by a person who is considering a career similar to mine are good communication and negotiating skills. If someone is interested in pursuing a career in public health, I’d advise them to do some work experience and shadow some public health practitioners.