From PhD to Public Health Doctor
Dr Catherine Heffernan explains a typical morning for a public health doctor in the NHS. The difference is she’s a sociologist.

From PhD to  Public Health Doctor - Dr Catherine Heffernan

My day kicks off at 9:30am with coffee and 100 emails. My PA hands me my diary for the day. There has been an E. coli outbreak at a school so there is an emergency teleconference at 11am. I check the agenda and minutes for the Breastfeeding & Immunisation Steering Committee that I chair and notice Alcohol Awareness Week is approaching. I look at my diary again. The local radio station wants to interview me at 5pm on the rise in child poverty in London and I also have to meet with the performance team to update them on teenage pregnancy in the borough. This is a typical morning for a public health doctor in the NHS. The difference is I’m a sociologist.

Although public health is a medical speciality, non-medics who are suitably qualified can apply to the postgraduate programme and train to become consultants. The programme is four to five years and the salary is good – between £40,000 and £50,000 a year.

I find that my sociological background is invaluable to my day-to-day work. Firstly, all my statistical and social research methodology training means that I can interpret any health trend, read any epidemiological report and measure outcomes and users’ perspectives.

Secondly, service redesign is a huge component of public health work and being able to develop service models based on evidence requires the skills of a social researcher. People need to know what works and the years spent doing literature reviews means that I can quickly put together an argument on the effectiveness of interventions.

Thirdly, partnership working is crucial to improving health and wellbeing and reducing health inequalities. Without knowing it, I readily apply sociological theories to my work and feel that I can bring anyone, even dissenting voices, to the table. Sociology also equips you with an understanding of the barriers to good health, including the impact of social structure. This is crucial when working with local authorities who have responsibility for improving housing, transport, education and overall quality of life.


I find that my sociological background is invaluable to my day-to-day work. It really is a fantastic grounding for public health.

 

Dr Catherine Heffernan


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