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Health promotion specialist

Health promotion is a term that has been applied to a wide range of approaches to improving health of people, communities and populations. But whatever the particular focus of health promotion work, health promotion needs to be grounded in firm principles and philosophy.

Health promotion staff work at a number of levels from face to face contact with individuals, groups and communities to more strategic work such as policy development. The work is much more than simply advising or persuading individuals to make lifestyle changes and includes:

  • Organisational Development  - developing organisations to be more health promoting e.g. in schools, workplaces and hospitals

  • Community Development - developing communities to be more health promoting e.g. neighbourhoods, cultural communities and communities of interest

  • Strategy Development - developing a strategic approach to improving health and ensuring that local, regional and national policies that can affect public health do so in a health promoting way

  • Personal Development - developing the personal, emotional, and social skills and abilities of lay and professional people in order for them to maximise their own health and build a health promoting capacity for those around them

  • Partnership Development - developing partnerships with key people, communities and organisations who can affect or influence public health, and to enable these partnerships to be better able to promote health

  • Health Information - developing ways of providing appropriate and accurate information about people's health, what social and behavioural factors can affect their health, and what can be done to improve health

  • Project Management - managing specific health promoting projects in order to ensure they are ethical, effective and efficiently delivered

Health promotion specialists work in a range of locations like communities, health centres, local authority buildings, hospitals, offices, and sports and fitness centres.

You are likely to work a normal working week from Monday to Friday but for some posts there may be out of hours working.

Entry requirements

To enter and train as a health education/promotion specialist or officer you will usually need a first degree or equivalent in the field of biological, social or behavioural sciences or a relevant masters degree. You may also enter with a professional qualification and experience (in such fields as nursing, health visiting, teaching, environmental health, social work or medicine).

To gain a health promotion post, it is therefore often the case that employers are looking for someone with some experience in the type of work involved. For new people into the profession, it is advisable to undertake some form of voluntary work as one way of gaining this sort of experience. Talk to a health promotion worker in your local area.

Within a year or so of starting a job as a health promotion practitioner, you would be encouraged to undertake a postgraduate qualification in health promotion.

Some posts are of a more 'hands-on' nature and involve working with the public in topics like smoking cessation, healthy eating and exercise or sexual health. These posts may or may not require a postgraduate qualification in health promotion.

More senior practitioner posts are those which take responsibility for projects or other staff, or work at a more strategic level. These posts would very likely require you to have the postgraduate diploma or MSc in health promotion or health development.

There are also opportunities to work in other related roles such as health trainer, nutritionist and dietitian.

Skills

Health promotion specialists must be able to:

  • develop expert knowledge of health and its determinants
  • analyse complex issues regarding how health is created and how health behaviours are brought about
  • think strategically and work for strategic change, which often calls for a level of influence and leadership beyond the authority and status of many health promotion posts
  • champion ways of working based on evidence of effectiveness and also clear ethical principles
  • committed to working with rigour and in ways which involve people and encourage participation. Rather than becoming the expert on which others come to depend, the health promotion specialist is committed to building capacity and skills in others to do health promotion themselves

They must also:

  • have excellent communication and negotiation skills
  • be caring and empathetic
  • be understanding, supportive and non-judgmental
  • have the ability to focus on the needs and issues of individual people, their communities and cultures
  • be able to reflect on their actions and motivations and think outside of orthodox, safe ways of working

Training

Postgraduate courses are available at a number of higher education institutions (HEIs). Contact your nearest HEI or for details of courses, or contact the Health Learning and Skills Advice Line 08000 150 850.

Pay for health promotion specialists

Salaries depend on the employing organisation (primary care organisation, hospital etc) and the level of strategic leadership at which you are working. For information on pay in the NHS, please click here

Further information

For further general information about health promotion, please contact the following organisations:

Royal Society for Public Health
John Snow House
59 Mansell Street
London
E1 8AN
Tel: 0207 265 7300
Email: info@rsph.org.uk
Web: www.rsph.org.uk

The Institute of Health Promotion and Education
Professor A S Blinkhorn,
University Dental Hospital,
Higher Cambridge Street,
Manchester
M15 6FH
Email: honsec@ihpe.org.uk
Website: http://www.ihpe.org.uk/home/index.htm

The Faculty of Public Health
4 St Andrews Place
London
NW1 4LB
Email: educ@fph.org.uk
Website: http://www.fph.org.uk

Skills for Health
2nd Floor
Goldsmiths House
Broad Plain
Bristol
BS2 0JP
Telephone: 0117 922 1155
Fax: 0117 925 1800
Email: office@skillsforhealth.org.uk
Website: http://www.skillsforhealth.org.uk

Health promotion specialists are a part of the wider team of staff working in public health. For more information about opportunities in the public health arena, visit the PHORCAST website.


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