Dr Rachael Hornigold, public health specialty registrar, Extreme Events, Public Health England
able to show an understanding of public health concepts and inequalities. They should also have a political awareness and understanding of the impact of national policy on health, and have a basic understanding of research methodology.
• surveillance and assessment of the population’s health and wellbeing
• assessing the evidence of effectiveness of health and healthcare interventions, programmes and services
• policy and strategy development and implementation
• strategic leadership and collaborative working for health
• health improvement • health protection • health and social service quality • public health intelligence • academic public health.
According to Health Education England’s specialty training site, applicants should be
The job The FPH defines the field as: “The science and art of promoting and protecting health and wellbeing, preventing ill-health and prolonging life through the organised efforts of society.” Public health specialists and consultants are described by NHS Health Careers as “strategists or senior managers or senior scientists”, working across all three domains of public health. They will usually be employed primarily within local authorities or national agencies such as Public Health England. There are also opportunities within the NHS, the prison service, Defence Medical Services, think tanks, voluntary organisations and even bodies such as the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). The private sector also hires specialists within companies, organisations, and consultancy firms. The job as a specialist/consultant is varied and includes responsibilities such as working with senior colleagues on the planning and delivery of policies and programmes to influence the health of groups of people at local, regional and national levels. They will also provide professional, evidence-based advice on the commissioning of services to improve health and wellbeing and reduce health inequalities across primary, secondary and social care. One potential role is that of consultant epidemiologist, providing strategic leadership in the surveillance of infectious diseases and environmental hazards. Public health academics usually work in
universities or further education, in the UK or abroad, across all three domains. NHS Health Careers describes how they typically set up research investigations to address specific public health issues. They may also teach about public health theories and practice. Their day-to-day work is likely to consist of: teaching; assessing and examining students’ work; researching public health issues; and sharing the results of their work. Roles include research assistant, academic clinical fellow, research fellow or clinical lecturer.
Sources: • NHS health careers – www.healthcare
• Faculty of Public Health – www.fph.org.uk
• HEE specialty training – tinyurl. com/ybwdufu4
What first attracted you to public health? I initially trained in ENT surgery, and was a long way through my higher surgical training when I became interested in public health. I had had very limited exposure to public health at medical school or in my initial training placements but became aware of the training scheme when I worked with public health consultants on a service redesign. I absolutely loved the experience and after some shadowing placements decided to apply for public health training.
What do you enjoy most about the job? I really enjoy the multi-disciplinary nature and the chance to get involved in vastly different projects well outside the usual medical sphere. In the last year I’ve directed a video for healthy eating with nursery children, attended cross- departmental meetings on climate change in Whitehall, worked with the Met Office on cold weather alerts and dealt with infectious disease outbreaks. I also enjoy the ability to manage my own workload in the way that works best for me.
What do you find most challenging? The breadth of public health is massive – so it is a challenge to stay up-to-date with developments in the field. The membership exams are challenging, but you are offered lots of support, including the opportunity to undertake a master’s degree in public health.
Has anything surprised you about the specialty?
Public health specialist training is the only training scheme that accepts applicants at ST level who are non-medics. So you may find yourself training with dentists, vets, nurses and people with a complete lack of medical training, such as those with a background in politics, policy and health promotion. This leads to a very diverse and interesting group of colleagues, with their own individual strengths and knowledge base.
What do you consider the most important attributes of a good public health specialist? The ability to quickly become a subject area specialist at short notice, the ability to be flexible in your role and to be a team player, appreciating all of your colleagues’ skills and experience.
Is there any advice you could give to a final year or FY trainee considering public health? There is limited clinical work in public health so you need to be very sure this suits you. It may be useful to undertake additional clinical placements before applying. Contact your local authority team and your local health protection team to speak to registrars and consultants about what they do day-to-day and potentially organise some shadowing. The FPH website is a great source of information.
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