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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 lots of people.

Charles-Edward Amory Winslow, an early twentieth century public health expert, called public health both a "science and art".

His comment reflects the multidisciplinary nature of the field, which needs a range of specialists ranging from biostatisticians to economists, and from microbiologists to sociologists. 


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. 

The NHS talks about the three main domains of public health:

  • Health protection – such as protecting people from environmental or biological threats, for example food poisoning or radiation
  • Health improvement – such as improving people’s health by encouraging them to quit smoking or lose weight 
  • Healthcare public health – such as ensuring health services are run efficiently and are accessible to all 

Health Careers - what is 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 NHS lists a number of different roles where public health is considered to be the main part of the role. They include:

  • academics
  • consultants 
  • epidemiologists (scientists who study diseases within populations of people)
  • health visitors
  • midwives
  • nutritionists
  • public health intelligence analysts
  • public health nurses, including school nurses and those specialising in health promotion, protection, and infection control 
  • public health practitioners 
  • statisticians 
  • substance misuse workers 

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


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, a particular group of people, or the general public. 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 NHS includes a comprehensive Public Health Skills and Career Framework which describes the skills and knowledge across the workforce.

Health Careers - find out about the Public Skills and Career Framework


What are the entry requirements for roles in public health?

Entry requirements and routes into roles in public health are very dependent on the role, due to the diversity of this area.

For some roles such as midwives and nurses, you would definitely require a nursing or midwifery degree. On the other hand, for a role as a public health practitioner (which cover a wide range of job titles from teenager pregnancy co-ordinator to nutritionist) there are no set entry requirements. However, qualifications in a relevant area such as a nursing, environmental health, or sport and exercise, as well as related work experience, could be really beneficial.

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 managerial directions. 

Health Careers - NHS Graduate Management Training Scheme

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 include:

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

Public Health England is an 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. Their webpage includes news, consultations, announcements, publications, and statistics. 

Health Careers - employers of public health staff from the armed forces to national government

NHS Jobs

Civil Service 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.

Health Careers - achievements and priorities in public health

Public Health England - is an 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. 

Public Health England - news, consultations, announcements, publications, and statistics.  

Royal College of Nursing has a section on public health with separate webpages on each related area of public health. For example, 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



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