Case study

Public health programme manager — Peter

As a qualified health psychologist working in the public sector, Peter's role is to build health and behaviour change into a range of projects. Find out how he got his job and how he hopes to further develop his career

What degree did you study?

I completed a BSc (Hons) Psychology with The Open University, followed by a Masters and Professional Doctorate in Health Psychology, both at Staffordshire University. I completed my Professional Doctorate in 2019, so I am now a registered health psychologist.

How did you get your job?

My move into public health was a big career change for me. I had previously worked in large commercial organisations as a change and project manager, as well as running my own freelance business for a number of years.

My degree with The Open University inspired me to become a health psychologist operating in public health, but I had no experience or contacts in this world. So volunteering was how I got into it. It took a lot of hard work just trying to find the right person to talk to, but this allowed me to get my foot in the door. Applying for a full-time job when it came along was easier as a result of this.

What's a typical working day like?

There is no getting away from the fact that there are lots of meetings to go to and lots of emails to deal with. The meetings provide an opportunity to work with other people and to influence thinking about how health and behaviour change can be considered in most aspects of a local authority's work.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

 I really enjoy using the new skills I built up from my MSc and Professional Doctorate to build 'health thinking' and behaviour change into different local authority projects, such as housing developments, transport changes in a city and air quality improvement initiatives.

What are the challenges?

Working in a cash-strapped local authority throughout the recent period of austerity has been very challenging. It has been very hard to see funding cut for projects that make a difference to people's lives. It has also been difficult seeing colleagues leave as a result of the cuts. Trying to deliver on your work with this going on around you is really hard.

How is your degree relevant?

All the five competences within the Doctorate (research, psychological interventions, teaching, consulting and professional skills) are relevant to my role. I use research, evidence and data on a daily basis, which are core aspects of the public health profession. I use a range of theoretical and practical models to support behaviour science input to projects. The various projects I work on constantly require consulting and teaching skills.

How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions?

I started with focusing on just a couple of areas of work in public health and I now have about 20 different projects that I am working on.

I hope to broaden and deepen my knowledge of public health and think of new and creative ways to apply health psychology to this field.

What's your advice for choosing a Masters?

Choose something that you are passionate about. Completing my Masters, while still working, was incredibly hard work and stressful at times, so caring about the subject helped me through the hard times.

What are your top tips for becoming a health psychologist?

  • Be prepared to volunteer if there aren't any immediate vacancies.
  • Consider the 'long game' by coming into health psychology from other, related jobs. These could be in social care, education, health promotion or front-line health roles.
  • University research projects could provide a way of helping out a public health team and will introduce you to public health professionals.

Find out more

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