Choosing your specialty: Public Health

A career in public health is all about seeing the wide picture of the healthcare industry, as you will strive to improve the health of large groups of people, rather than treating individual patients. Your main goals will be focused around making communities and environments healthier, aiming to hit upon optimal health with an eye open to prevention rather cures. This will also involve promoting healthy lifestyles, preventing disease spread and improving healthcare services. You could work in a rural community, a city or even on a more global scale.

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Working in this sector of medicine means that you will need to develop a broad understanding of all things health related and this will include the structure of healthcare systems and services, current government policy and how to effectively interpret available data. You should also have good ideas about evaluating evidence to devise and implement strategies for improving and protecting health, and health services.

Timescales for getting projects up and running can be long and require a great deal of negotiation, but a good public health consultant will be able to handle the challenge. You will be a constant multi-tasker and will need to respond to emergencies as they crop up. Communication skills are also vital as you need to push communities, stakeholder organisations and politicians to work effectively towards common goals.

Is this specialty for you?

Leaders in public health are diverse in their capabilities and creative in their ability to visualise change. They are also meticulous and organised in realising their plans and monitoring the results. Epidemiology is the vital component of working in public health – this involves the study of the distribution and causes of a disease or state of health, and the use of this information to prevent or control health problems and diseases.

There are a great number of other skills and areas of knowledge that are essential to public health consultants including:

  • Statistics
  • Handling and interpreting data
  • Managing health information
  • Demography
  • Medical sociology
  • Social policy
  • Health economics
  • Communicable diseases
  • Budgeting, leadership and people management
  • Health needs assessment, health impact assessments and health equity audits
  • Critical appraisal and research
  • People skills
  • Facilitation and negotiation skills
  • Resilience