It takes confident communication, a passion for promoting healthy lifestyle choices and the ability to motivate others to succeed as a health improvement practitioner

As a health improvement practitioner you'll help people to make lifestyle and behaviour changes to improve their health and wellbeing and their control over it. This can be in a variety of areas such as diet, exercise or stopping smoking.

You could work in a range of settings and as well as giving face to face advice, you'll set up schemes promoting a healthy lifestyle, run campaigns and implement government initiatives relating to public health.

The role falls underneath the broader term of public health practitioner. Many other roles are available within this area but they all have the common goal of influencing the health of individuals, communities and larger populations.

Types of health improvement practitioner

It's possible to cover a number of health-related issues, or to specialise in one area such as:

  • drug misuse
  • stopping smoking
  • excessive alcohol consumption
  • healthy eating
  • sexual health.

Your work could also be focused on a specific section of the community, such as elderly or disabled people or an ethnic minority group.

Responsibilities

As a health improvement practitioner, you'll need to:

  • develop the health awareness of individuals, groups and organisations and empower them to make healthy choices
  • work with and support a range of statutory, voluntary, charitable and commercial organisations in their delivery of health promotion activities
  • run community training courses and workshops in areas such as mental health, accident prevention, cancers and heart disease
  • develop and support local partnerships to broaden the local response to health inequalities
  • identify training needs arising from strategic and local agendas for people such as health professionals and volunteers
  • provide specialist advice and resources to other agencies, such as schools and local communities
  • ensure that work is underpinned by sound, up-to-date knowledge of health promotion theory and make sure that projects are based on evidence of effectiveness
  • lobby for increased recognition of preventative and promotional measures that can take place at a population level and which have a positive impact on the health of a community
  • write and produce leaflets, posters, videos and brochures to aid health promotion in different environments.

Salary

Salaries depend on the employing organisation (e.g. primary care trust, hospital or local authority), your location, specialist area and the strategic leadership level at which you're working.

  • Jobs in the NHS are usually covered by the Agenda for Change (AfC) Pay Rates. This sets salaries at certain levels and health improvement practitioners tend to start at Band 5 where salaries range from £24,907 to £30,615.
  • After a few years’ experience you could progress to salaries in the region of £31,365 to £37,890 (Band 6).
  • Once you've gained significant experience and are working at a senior level you could move to Band 7 where salaries range from £38,890 to £44,503. In some instances it may be possible to earn a higher salary, if you're working at a strategic national level.
  • Salaries outside of the NHS are typically comparable to these levels.

Income data from Health Careers. Figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours are usually 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. However, some flexibility is required as it will be necessary to work the occasional evening and weekend, especially when running community groups.

Part-time work may be possible along with job-sharing, although this would need to be negotiated locally, as would career breaks. Self-employment and freelance work are sometimes possible, for example, in writing, research or consultancy.

What to expect

  • You'll generally be office based but will visit other locations such as schools, hospitals, community centres and sports and fitness centres.
  • The job involves liaising with a range of other agencies and requires frequent travel within the local area, and occasionally beyond, especially if you work for a national organisation.
  • There can be pressure with deadlines and targets.
  • Fixed-term, project-based working is increasingly common.
  • The occasional overnight stay away in the UK may be necessary but overseas work or travel is uncommon.

Qualifications

It is likely that the majority of employers will ask for a degree or equivalent qualification in a relevant subject such as:

  • community and youth work
  • dietetics
  • education
  • environmental health
  • health promotion
  • health studies
  • nutrition
  • public health.

Entry with an HND may be possible if you have extensive related pre-entry experience and/or a relevant professional qualification. A one-year top-up programme in public health and health promotion is available for those with an appropriate foundation degree or diploma.

A postgraduate degree is not always necessary but can be helpful and may give you an advantage when job searching. Some more senior posts, particularly those involving working at strategic level, do require a postgraduate degree. Subjects include health promotion, public health or health development.

Search for postgraduate courses in public health.

Some people enter this job as a second career, often coming from a background such as:

  • environmental health
  • medicine
  • nursing
  • social work
  • teaching.

Skills

You'll need to have:

  • excellent oral and written communication skills
  • good networking skills
  • the ability to build and maintain good relationships with individuals and organisations - including public, private, community and voluntary bodies
  • good presentation skills for speaking to groups
  • decision-making skills for acting on policies and strategies
  • leadership skills and the ability to motivate and influence others in their health decision
  • an understanding of health issues
  • empathy for people facing difficult situations
  • initiative and problem-solving ability
  • good time management skills for managing your workload effectively
  • the ability to manage projects and to carry out research
  • creativity and the ability to achieve results and targets.

Work experience

Employers will expect you to demonstrate your interest in health improvement and preferably to have some experience in this area.

Related voluntary work or work shadowing can be completed at a health centre or with a local community group. Contact your local NHS trust to discover what opportunities are available.

Other experience that demonstrates your engagement with local communities is also useful. This could include becoming involved in the local community centre or working with a charity that has outreach programmes to those in the local area.

Employers

The main employer of health improvement practitioners in the UK is the NHS via primary care trusts.

Other employers include:

  • charities such as British Red Cross, Oxfam and Save the Children
  • healthy living centres
  • local authorities, including promotion within school
  • national agencies in the health and voluntary sectors (such as Public Health England, NHS Health Scotland and the Public Health Agency for Northern Ireland)
  • organisations involved in health and sport initiatives
  • specialist health promotion departments
  • voluntary and charitable organisations
  • World Health Organisation (WHO)

Common workplace settings include:

  • hospitals
  • local communities
  • neighbourhoods
  • prisons
  • schools.

Look for job vacancies at:

Keep a look out for different job titles in vacancies as roles may have different names depending on the employer.

Think about the area of health improvement you'd like to specialise in. You may be able to take short training courses in specific areas, such as stopping smoking or working with patient groups, to increase your chances of getting a job.

Competition for posts varies depending on geographical location and particular specialisms. Health improvement is very much on the UK government's agenda and there are increasing opportunities for individuals with relevant skills.

Professional development

Most of your training will be on the job but you may complete some external short courses, on topics such as:

  • group work skills
  • monitoring and evaluating health promotion
  • developing health leaflets.

Various Level 2 Awards are offered by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) in subjects such as:

  • encouraging physical activity
  • encouraging a healthy weight and healthy eating
  • supporting smoking cessation
  • supporting behaviour change
  • understanding misuse of substances.

For more information see RSPH Find a Qualification.

Most employers support continuing professional development (CPD) and some will be supportive if you choose to undertake a postgraduate qualification. In some cases, an employer will allow a day release for study.

You may decide to gain registration with the United Kingdom Public Health Register (UKPHR). As a health practitioner, this is voluntary but it can be helpful for career progression as it will demonstrate your professional competence.

Career prospects

With experience you can move on to more senior roles such as advanced health improvement practitioner or assistant manager. This will involve taking on more responsibility for projects and staff, along with more strategic work.

Within the NHS, you could undertake specialty training in public health which then allows you to apply for specialist roles such as director of public health, where you will determine the overall objectives for public health in the local area.

Small health improvement units may not have much room for promotion, meaning that competition for any senior posts that do become available will be strong. You may, therefore, need to take a sideways step to a different organisation, which will allow you to gain experience in other areas such as government agencies or charities.

Moving to a larger organisation may offer a structured career path to management level. You may also find opportunities for secondments to other departments and areas of work. Developing a career as a freelance consultant is another option.

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