Health promotion specialists, sometimes called health education specialists, help people to improve their health and increase their control over it.
Roles may vary from giving face-to-face advice to individuals to producing strategic policies for health promotion. They may set up schemes promoting a healthy lifestyle, run campaigns and implement government initiatives relating to public health.
Types of health promotion specialist
Health promotion specialists work in a wide range of settings, including:
- cultural communities.
They educate on a number of different health-related issues, such as:
- drug misuse;
- the dangers of smoking;
- excessive alcohol consumption;
- healthy eating;
- sexual health.
Their work may be focused on a specific section of the community, such as elderly or disabled people or an ethnic minority group.
Many health promotion specialists work at a local level, but others have more strategic roles with national organisations.
Due to the diverse nature of the job there is no standard role, but typical activities may include:
- developing policies and strategies for promoting health at local, regional or national level;
- planning, developing, implementing, monitoring and evaluating projects to promote health improvement;
- facilitating and supporting a wide range of statutory, voluntary, charitable and commercial organisations in their delivery of health promotion activities;
- developing the health awareness of individuals, groups and organisations and empowering them to make healthy choices; leading, supporting, or cooperating in multi-agency projects to promote a healthy context or social environment;
- running training courses and workshops in areas such as mental health, accident prevention, cancers and heart disease; developing and supporting local partnerships to broaden the local response to health inequalities;
- identifying training needs arising from strategic and local agendas and developing and delivering appropriate training for people such as health professionals and volunteers;
- providing specialist advice and resources to other agencies, such as schools and local communities; ensuring that work is underpinned by sound, up-to-date knowledge of health promotion theory and making sure that projects are based on evidence of effectiveness;
- lobbying 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;
- writing and producing leaflets, posters, videos and brochures to aid health promotion in different environments.
- Salaries depend on the employing organisation (primary care trust, hospital, local authority, etc) and the strategic leadership level at which the specialist is working.
- Jobs in the National Health Service (NHS) are usually covered by the Agenda for Change (AfC) Pay Rates. The range of typical starting salaries in the NHS is £21,478 to £34,530 (Band 5 to 6).
- Range of typical salaries at senior level/after several years' experience in the role are between: £30,764 and £67,805 (Band 7 to 8c).
Salaries may also vary according to the geographical location, specialist area and experience of the individual.
Income data from the National Health Service (NHS). Figures are intended as a guide only.
Working hours are usually nine to five, Monday to Friday, but flexibility is essential and some evening and weekend work may be required, especially when running community groups and will vary depending on the post.
Part-time work may be possible along with job-sharing, although this would need to be negotiated locally, as would career breaks.
What to expect
- Work will generally be office based but will also incorporate other locations such as schools, hospitals, community centres and sports and fitness centres.
- Self-employment and freelance work are sometimes possible, for example, in writing, research or consultancy.
- Fixed-term project-based working is increasingly common.
- Stress levels can be high due to the pressure of working to deadlines and delivering targets. Wider ongoing changes in the area of public health may also contribute to this.
- Travel within the working day is common. The job involves liaising with a wide range of other agencies and requires frequent travel within the local area, and occasionally beyond, especially if you work for a national organisation.
- Occasional absence from home overnight is required but overseas work or travel is uncommon if you are employed by an organisation focusing on health improvement in the UK.
Although this area of work is open to graduates of many disciplines, the most relevant degree subjects are biological, social and behavioural sciences.
A degree in one of the following subjects may also increase your chances:
- health promotion;
- health studies;
- public health;
- environmental health;
- community and youth work;
Entry with a HND may be possible for candidates with extensive relevant pre-entry experience and/or a relevant professional qualification. Examples of relevant work experience include:
- environmental health;
- social work.
A one-year top-up programme in health promotion is available for those with a relevant foundation degree or diploma.
Some health promotion jobs, such as those working directly with the public, may not require a postgraduate qualification. However, senior posts at a more strategic level, or those which involve responsibility for projects or other staff members, are likely to require a postgraduate diploma or MSc in a related subject such as health promotion, public health or health development. Search for postgraduate courses in public health.
Applicants should have an interest in health improvement and some employers will look for previous experience in this area. Related voluntary work or work shadowing may therefore be helpful.
You will need to have:
- excellent oral and written communication skills;
- ability to network effectively;
- decision-making skills;
- leadership skills and the ability to motivate and influence others;
- an understanding of health issues;
- negotiation skills;
- problem-solving ability;
- time management skills;
- creativity and the ability to think strategically;
- research skills;
- project management skills.
They should also be good at building and maintaining relationships with individuals and organisations, including public, private, community and voluntary bodies.
In April 2013, as part of the new Health and Social Care Act, responsibility for public health in England transferred from National Health Service (NHS) to local authorities.
Currently, the main employer of health promotion specialists in the UK is the NHS via primary care trusts.
Other employers include:
- local authorities, including promotion within schools;
- specialist health promotion departments;
- national agencies in the health and voluntary sectors (such as NHS Health Scotland and the Public Health Agency for Northern Ireland);
- voluntary organisations;
- charitable organisations;
- Sure Start;
- neighbourhood renewal schemes (in Northern Ireland);
- healthy living centres;
- organisations involved in health and sport initiatives.
International opportunities exist with organisations such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) and charities working in international development such as:
Look for job vacancies at:
- Guardian Jobs
- Health Protection Agency (HPA) - employer websites.
- Health Service Journal
- HSCRecruit.com - health and social care jobs in Northern Ireland.
- NHS Authorities and Trusts - for a list of NHS trust websites.
- NHS Jobs - for vacancies in England and Wales.
- NHS Scotland Recruitment
- Local press.
- Local authority websites and publications.
To find out more you should talk to practitioners and visit public health organisations, such as:
- primary care trusts;
- local authorities;
- specialist health promotion units.
Think about the area of health promotion that you may wish to specialise in. You may be able to take short training courses in areas such as stopping smoking, working with patient groups (see the Expert Patients Programme) and other skills-based training, for example in research, teaching or counselling.
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.
Training for health promotion specialists tends to be mainly on the job. External short courses are available on a range of topics including:
- group work skills;
- monitoring and evaluating health promotion;
- developing health leaflets.
For relevant training courses such as the Level 1 Award in Health Awareness and the Level 2 Award in Understanding Behaviour Change see the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH).
Distance learning courses in health promotion are also available via the Open University (OU).
There may also be training and updates on issues such as:
- alcohol awareness;
- healthy eating;
- sexual health.
Attending conferences will help you keep up to date with developments in the sector.
There may be the opportunity of doing a postgraduate qualification for those who do not already have one. Some employers will support this and allow a day release for study.
Although most employers do support continuing professional development (CPD), the amount of support varies. The funding available for training is also variable and is subject to local conditions.
For health promotion specialists, career development may consist of moving on to more senior roles such as senior health promotion specialist. After this grade, further progression to assistant manager is possible.
These senior posts may involve taking on more responsibility for projects and staff, along with more strategic work.
The organisation in which a health promotion specialist works may determine what course of career development they take.
Small health promotion units may not have much room for promotion, meaning that competition for any senior posts that do become available will be strong. Some health promotion specialists may therefore take a sideways step to a different organisation, which will allow them to gain experience in other areas such as government agencies or charities.
Moving to a larger organisation will also increase the chances of there being a structured career path leading up to management level.
There may be opportunities for secondments to other departments and areas of work. Some health promotion specialists develop careers as freelance consultants but this is usually after they have built up significant experience.