If you're interested in influencing the health choices that people make and you are a good communicator, the role of a health promotion specialist could be for you

Health promotion 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. You may set up schemes promoting a healthy lifestyle, run campaigns and implement government initiatives relating to public health.

You can work in a range of settings, including:

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

Job titles vary so look out for roles such as health education specialist or health improvement practitioner.

Types of health promotion specialist

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

  • drug misuse;
  • the dangers of 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

Due to the diverse nature of the job there is no standard role, but in general you may need to:

  • plan and develop policies, strategies and projects for promoting health at local, regional or national level;
  • develop the health awareness of individuals, groups and organisations and empower them to make healthy choices;
  • facilitate 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 (primary care trust, hospital, local authority, etc), 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. The range of typical starting salaries in the NHS is £21,909 to £35,225 (Band 5 to 6).
  • Once you've gained several years' experience and are working at a senior level you could progress to Band 7 where salaries range from £31,383 to £41,373. In some instances it may be possible to get a higher salary if you're working at a strategic national level

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, flexibility is essential and some evening and weekend work may be required, 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

  • Work will generally be office based but will also incorporate other locations such as schools, hospitals, community centres and sports and fitness centres.
  • 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 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're employed by an organisation focusing on health improvement in the UK.

Qualifications

You can become a health promotion specialist with a degree in any subject but the most relevant degrees are biological, social and behavioural sciences.

In particular, one of the following subjects may increase your chances:

  • 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 health promotion is available for those with an appropriate 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, may ask for one in a subject such as health promotion, public health or health development. Search for postgraduate courses in public health.

Some people enter this job as a second career. They may have built up experience in areas such as:

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

Work experience

You 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. This may include working with a local community group, at a health centre or with a particular group of people such as children or old people. Get in touch with your local NHS trust to find out about opportunities.

Skills

You will need to have:

  • excellent oral and written communication skills and the ability to network effectively so that you can talk to a range of people;
  • decision-making skills for acting on policies and strategies;
  • leadership skills and the ability to motivate and influence others in their health decisions;
  • an understanding of health issues;
  • empathy for people facing difficult situations;
  • initiative and problem-solving ability;
  • time management skills if you're working on several projects at once;
  • creativity and the ability to think strategically to achieve results and targets;
  • research and project management skills.

You should also be good at building and maintaining relationships with individuals and organisations, including public, private, community and voluntary bodies.

Employers

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 Public Health England, NHS Health Scotland and the Public Health Agency for Northern Ireland);
  • voluntary and charitable organisations;
  • 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:

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 and other skills-based training, for example in research, 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

It is likely that your training will 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.

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

  • applied health improvement;
  • encouraging a healthy weight and healthy eating;
  • supporting smoking cessation;
  • understanding behaviour change.

For more information see RSPH Qualifications.

There may be the opportunity of doing a postgraduate qualification if you don't 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 and funding varies.

You may decide to look into gaining registration with the United Kingdom Public Health Register (UKPHR). This isn't essential but will show that you've reached a certain level and may help with career progression. You should keep a portfolio of evidence of your training and experience, which can then be submitted to the UKPHR.

Career prospects

Career development may consist of moving on to more senior roles such as senior health promotion specialist or advanced health improvement practitioner. 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.

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. 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 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. It is possible to develop a career as a freelance consultant but this is usually after you have built up significant experience.