What Careers are there in Public Health?

What careers are there in public health?

The term public health refers to the organised efforts of society to improve the health of the population through preventing ill-health, prolonging life and promoting health. In 2004 a report by Derek Wanless  Securing Good Health for the Whole Population called for a number of strategies to improve public health and reduce health inequalities, including the development of a national strategy to develop the ‘public health workforce’. 

A career in public health can be very rewarding and provides opportunities to help improve people's health and wellbeing, while also helping to tackle the root causes of ill-health.

The core public health workforce

Peoples working in a role primarily classified as public health generally work in areas of:

Health Protection: Work which protects people’s health and wellbeing, such as controlling infectious diseases, implementing food safety measures, planning emergency responses and ensuring clean water supplies. Examples of job roles include communicable disease consultants, infection control nurses, sanitation engineers, Environmental Health Practitioners, emergency response planners and food safety consultants.

Health Improvement: This work aims to improve people’s health and wellbeing through activities such as the commissioning of health improvement and behaviour change activities, policy research and implementing health improvement campaigns, as well as individual and community-based health improvement activities. The work can include developing and delivering campaigns and services to reduce unhealthy weight, help people to stop smoking, increase physical activity and reduce health inequalities, Job roles include  public health managers and public health specialists  as well as public health practitioners  such as those providing weight management services, smoking cessation advisors and substance misuse workers.

Healthcare public health: This work involves improving health at a population level by preventing disease or improving health-related outcomes through healthcare interventions or treatments. healthcare hublic health is also concerned with developing evidence-based healthcare services, assessing and planning health needs and ensuring equality of access to effective healthcare. Job roles include public health nurseshealth visitors, those working in health screening, health service managers and roles within the NHS. (Visit the NHS Careers website for more information). 

The wider public health workforce

The wider public health workforce is people whose paid or unpaid work is not primarily concerned with public health but nevertheless they have opportunities within their roles to support the public’s health and wellbeing. For example, they may be able to provide somebody with written public health information, support people making a positive health behaviour change or signpost to sources of expert help and guidance. It has been estimated that approximately 20 million people in the UK could fall into this category and some examples are:-

  • Social prescribers, healthcare navigators, health and wellbeing advisors and health trainers are integral to the wider public health workforce. They provide brief advice on a range of health issues, help people to set health goals and signpost to information, specialist services and resources
  • Allied Health Professionals  and Non - Specialist Clinicians. These are people working in a wide range of professions including physiotherapists, occupational therapists, radiographers, paramedics, speech and language therapists, podiatrists, dieticians and arts therapists, as well as clinicians who do not have specific “public health” roles, such as GPs and pharmacists
  • The Accredited Register Workforce:  These are largely practitioners working in health and care roles who can join registers held by professional bodies. Examples are talking therapists, people working in sports rehabilitation and complementary therapists
  • Emergency services: These are the “blue light” services of the police, ambulance and fire & rescue services.

There are many other people whose roles and interactions with the public give them opportunities to make a positive impact on the health and wellbeing of others. These include people working in the retail, hospitality and personal services sectors, teachers, architects, town planners and conservation workers.

For more information, read the RSPH reports on Rethinking the Public Health Workforce and Understanding the Wider Public Health Workforce.