Careers in healthcare and public health

The NHS employs over 1.5m people which make it the UK’s largest overall employer. Public health is the top national priority and working within healthcare is vitally important to the wellbeing of the nation. If you are looking for your next career move this is an overview of the types of careers in healthcare and public health that require a masters degree.

Types of jobs in the sector

Careers in healthcare and public health split into two types –

  • Giving care to individual patients in healthcare settings, and
  • Improving the health and wellbeing of people locally, nationally or internationally.

A wide range of specialist roles are available to graduates who have a background in health-related study. These roles usually require a graduate degree qualification and then further study at masters level certificate, diploma or degree.

Roles that focus on organisation and the administration of public services welcome graduates from a variety of backgrounds.

The typical healthcare roles requiring experience in heath related study include: -

  • Medicine
  • Nursing
  • Midwifery
  • Paramedic
  • Allied health, e.g., physiotherapy, radiography, occupational therapy
  • Dentistry
  • Optometry
  • Pharmacy

Do I need a medical undergraduate degree?

All medical professionals that have a healthcare role as a primary care giver have to be qualified. Chartered organisations administer the qualifications required to practice legally in healthcare.

In most cases the training required to become a doctor has well established pathways. University study combines with on the ward training. Continuous study is included in the career trajectory allowing the opportunity for specialisation.

In other areas such as nursing and midwifery, post-registration courses at postgraduate level is available in order to specialise.

For some roles such as paramedic, physiotherapist and occupational therapist, it's normal to work your way up from assistant level through Continuous Professional Development work-based learning, including degree-level study. A masters degree is an essential part of training in a number of roles such as pharmacy and clinical psychology,

Roles concerned with social care and support for patients with special needs requires additional selection processes as part of admission to a masters level course.

International students requires an excellent standard of English, so additional qualifications such as IELTS up to a high level will often be expected.

What is it like to work in a healthcare job?

Any job that involves working with the public means you have to be good with people. Any job that involves giving care to people with health issues means you have to be highly trained and attentive to dealing with difficult situations.

A lot of these roles require the ability to learn quickly and apply specialist knowledge of human anatomy and physiology. This is combined with empathy and excellent communication skills for challenging situations.

The ability to stay calm and focussed is very important.  Showing leadership in a crisis combined with precise decision making is essential.

The working environment varies a great deal, from highly complex medical facilities and research centres through to local healthcare centres and in patients homes. The hours of work are regulated but working at unsocial times of day and weekends can be the norm.

Continuous professional development through additional courses and training is a requirement to practice as a healthcare professional.

Public Health careers

Careers in public health focus on helping the public to take better care of themselves. The typical factors that can have an influence on public health include: -

  • Improving wellbeing – working to support patients improve their mental health or issues around addiction
  • Health protection – working to improve food safety, or respond to infectious disease outbreaks such as meningitis or Covid
  • Health improvement – providing education to help minimize health risks, such as smoking prevention, diet and exercise for diabetes and heart disease.

Contributing to public health applies at both ends of the spectrum. From a one-to-one intervention on an individual patient right up to national campaigns that effect whole populations as we have seen in recent times.

Most popular public health roles requiring additional qualifications

Organisations offer a wide variety of Careers in public health. Many of these are publicly funded through local authorities and the NHS and government. Private employers also employ public health practitioners to support their workforce.

In addition, companies involved in developing new treatments require public health professionals for conducting consumer research and testing.

As with patient facing medical roles, additional qualifications at masters level are needed for public health as employees seek progression by specialization

Example careers that are available to public health professionals include: -

  • Health and safety adviser
  • Health improvement practitioner
  • Environmental health practitioner
  • Health visitor
  • Nutritionist
  • Hygienist

Studying a masters in nursing

Nursing is a primary patient care role, and the training available is designed to provide blend of academic and ‘on the ward’ experience that is continually assessed. A masters in nursing is designed to help build upon your knowledge to provide you with additional skills. You will learn to develop critical enquiry, use evidence in practice and help build self confidence in undertaking research.

UK universities are adapting their nursing programmes to encourage more candidates to enter the profession. Postgraduate qualifications are available that will accept students with a health related undergraduate degree to complete a nursing qualification with a two-year diploma.

Additional Government funding through the NHS Learning Support Fund is on offer, and you may be eligible for a training grant of £5,000 per year (UK students only).

Here are three typical diploma courses in Adult, Child and Mental Health nursing from the University of Southampton. These can be topped up to a full masters degree.

Studying a masters in Public Health

A masters in public health (MPH) opens up many opportunities for graduates who usually have a health related undergraduate degree, but not always. Masters in public health degrees include core modules that look at subjects such as global health, statistics and research methods.

The course is designed to help the student consider contemporary issues around health, and the role of healthcare in society.

Masters level courses and degrees allow students with and interest in healthcare issues to develop a deeper understanding of the societal issues that drive healthcare decisions. This kind of analysis is very useful for careers where issues of policy and the provision of services is required.

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