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Public health

Heart shaped bowl of pomegranate seeds


Public health is all about improving the health of the general population. This can be by preventing disease, prolonging life, and promoting ways to keep healthy. The remit of public health ranges from supporting individuals to dealing with wider issues that impact local communities and whole populations.


What is public health?

Public health includes all aspects of physical, mental, and social wellbeing and covers a wide range of issues. There are many public health initiatives in the UK and elsewhere in the world. These include encouraging people to breastfeed, have their vaccinations, eat fruit and vegetables, exercise frequently, and wash their hands regularly. 

In many cases, public health is about stopping health problems before they begin. For example, providing free condoms can prevent sexually transmitted diseases, and vaccinations can prevent certain illnesses from spreading. 

NHS England refer to four main domains of public health:

  • Health protection – helping people to keep safe from risk for example, viruses, environmental or biological threats, food poisoning or radiation
  • Health improvement – improving people’s health by encouraging them to quit smoking or lose weight or by having health and wellbeing initiatives offered and accessible within local communities
  • Healthcare public health – ensuring health services are run efficiently and are accessible to all 
  • Academic Public Health – aims to build the evidence base on which all public health activities is based

You can view an overview of all 4 domains of public health in these short 1 minute videos produced by NHS England.

Health Careers - what is public health?

Faculty of Public Health


What job roles are available in public health?

Due to the multidisciplinary nature of public health, there are a diverse range of roles in this area.

The Health Careers website lists a number of different roles where public health is considered to be the main part of the role. These include:

  • public health academics
  • public health consultants and specialists
  • directors of public health (who lead the public health in a local area or a defined area of public health)
  • environmental health professionals (noise and environmental pollution, food safety and hygiene, workplace health, housing standards, public health threats)
  • health trainers (helping individuals and communities to achieve health goals)
  • public health nurses or midwives who have taken additional qualifications in areas such as sexual health, infection control or health protection (includes roles such as school nurse, occupational health nurse and health visitor)
  • public health practitioners who support the health and wellbeing of individuals, groups, and communities as part of their role
  • public health knowledge professionals (e.g. involved the management of data – such as in a specialist librarian or health evidence role)
  • public health intelligence professionals (e.g. involved in the analysis of data – such as by an epidemiologist who may study patterns of disease within a population, data scientist or data analyst role)
  • support worker roles (such as in substance misuse, smoking cessation, sexual health roles)

Health Careers - find out more about the core public health workforce

Health Careers - find out more about public health


Spotlight On: Careers in Public Health

We invited a panel of speakers working in a range of public health roles including analysts, community workers, and public health specialists to contribute to our online webinar. Discover how our speakers progressed into their roles, what they do, and their tips tops for students.

The speakers:

  • Samreen Nawshin, Senior Projects Officer at Healthwatch
  • Hannah Stovin, Senior Public Health Intelligence Manager at Nottingham City Council
  • Jessica Hamilton, Public Health Analyst at Newcastle City Council
  • Clare Reardon, Principle Public Health Specialist, City of Wolverhampton Council
  • Ben Wealthy, Head of Policy and Communications at the Association of Directors of Public Health

Login to SharePoint to watch the webinar

  • Alumni: Email us to gain access to the webinar

Icon of a video playing


What are the benefits of working in public health?

The main benefit is knowing that you’re making a difference to people’s health, whether on an individual level, with a particular group of people, or to a wider population. You will develop knowledge in an area of health and wellbeing and play a key role in preventing ill health and/or promoting ways to stay healthy.

Roles in this area could allow you to gain a range of skills, which will differ depending on the exact role. Skills could range from effective communication and leadership to analytical skills from interpreting data and existing research. The skills for health career framework describe the different levels of skills and knowledge across the public health workforce.

Skills for Health Career Framework


What are the entry requirements for roles in public health?



For more analytical roles, such as statisticians and public health intelligence analysts, a relevant degree is an advantage; analytical courses such as maths, statistics, some social sciences courses, and geography are good examples of these. The NHS Graduate Management Training Scheme has a health informatics strand, which is useful for those wanting to work with data.

If you’re more interested in a role in public health management, you will need to gain experience in management or consider a masters qualification in public health. The NHS Graduate Management Training Scheme has a general management specialty, although this could take you in many different managerial directions for example, managing primary care or mental health services or managing a service area within an acute NHS hospital or community trust or ambulance service.

The Graduates into Health programme seeks to recruit hard to fill digital, data and technology roles such as information management professionals, cyber and security analysts, software development, IT and project management roles. Since the scheme is very broad, you may be able to focus your training around an aspect of public health.
The Department of Health’s Health Policy Fast Track Scheme is as an opportunity to gain hands on experience of how health policy is developed and delivered by government and gain skills in health care policy and leadership. The scheme also integrates a postgraduate qualification in Health Policy as part of the training.
You may also consider specialty training in public health. Applicants for specialty training in public health come from a wide variety of backgrounds (eg nursing, research, teaching, environmental health, and medicine). Successful completion of training leads to being able to apply for roles as a Public Health Consultant

Health Careers - roles in public health including entry routes


Where can I look for jobs?

Roles in public health range across the public, private, and third sectors.

Employers may include:

  • NHS
  • higher education institutions
  • local and national government
  • armed forces
  • consultancy firms
  • charities and social enterprises

BMJ careers jobs

Health Careers - employers of public health staff 

NHS jobs

Civil Service jobs

Charity jobs

Armed Forces jobs


How do I increase my chances of success during the recruitment process?

A clear understanding of the sector and the latest developments will help you to impress a recruiter during the recruitment process. Use the following resources to develop your knowledge and keep up to date with the latest initiatives.

The UK Health Security Agency is a government agency sponsored by the Department of Health and Social Care. Its aims include to protect and improve the country’s health and wellbeing as well as reduce health inequalities.

UK Health Security Agency

Faculty of Public Health

The Royal College of Nursing has a section on public health with separate webpages on each related area of public health. You can find further information on preventative measures (for example, obesity and smoking), protective measures (such as immunisation and sexual health), and promotional tools (including occupational health and physical health).  

Royal College of Nursing - overview of public health

BBC - public health news

Royal Society for Public Health - an independent health education charity


Developments in public health

The UK Health security Agency (UKHSA) became fully operational as a government agency of the Department of Health and Social Care in October 2021. It combines the former health protection functions of Public Health England and NHS Test and Trace service. It brings together national public health science and response capabilities to protect against infectious diseases and external health threats.

Read the UKHSA blog and UKHSA strategic plan 2023 – 2026


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