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Health Promotion – The A To Z Of Allied Health

When we think of health professionals, our minds often jump to those involved in diagnosing, managing, and supporting the rehabilitation of a range of conditions and diseases. Rarely do we associate health professionals with early prevention and yet, this is very much at the centre of health promotion practice. These allied health professionals enable people to have greater control over and improve their own health, with a view to preventing the need to access health services in the longer term.

Through planning, developing, implementing, and evaluating health promotion projects and policies, this profession uses evidence-based strategies to optimise health and reduce inequalities impacting individuals and populations.

This important work “upstream” has been shown to improve the health and wellbeing of individuals and communities so that they need fewer health services in the long run.

What does a health promotion practitioner do?

This profession works to improve the conditions in which people live, play, learn, and work to make healthy choices easier.

They use a broad a range of strategies, including social marketing, the delivery of education, mass media, community development, and community engagement.  They engage in advocacy and lobbying, influence health policy, and draw on structural and environmental strategies. They may also focus on developing health and social workforces and building capacity within communities to promote health equality and reduce poor health.

Building effective partnerships with individuals, communities, community groups, schools, healthcare providers, and others, is central to their work. This gives them the scope to enact and support meaningful change and improvements to the environmental and other factors that influence health.

This is a very broad area of practice within which there are several special interest areas. These include public health, environmental health, mental health, health coaching and behaviour change support, education, community, the criminal justice systems, systemic inequalities, and working with young people.

Some of the key public health challenges these professionals have worked to address recently include reducing alcohol and tobacco use, promoting action on climate change, and increasing the uptake of COVID-19 vaccines. Other less recent campaigns include sun safety and seatbelt use when in vehicles.

Where do health promotion practitioners work?

Although some work in health services, you’re more likely to find these professionals employed through the different levels of government (i.e., local, state, and national), schools, non-government and community-based organisations, universities, and in private consultancies, corporate, and other workplace settings.

Highly regarded character traits

These professionals must be innovative and creative people who can think outside the box to address complex, and often long-standing challenges and inequalities impacting individuals and communities.

They must be patient and capable of managing large and often complex projects involving multiple different stakeholder groups. A big part is understanding issues and factors that influence health behaviours, and so listening deeply and focusing on investing in relationships is critical. These professionals must be able to decipher research evidence and use it to inform their approaches. They must also be across different forms of evaluation to demonstrate the outcomes and impacts of their work.

These professionals must be able to develop and deliver messages using multiple types of media and methods, and so written communication and visual presentation skills, as well as technological literacy go a very long way for these allied health professionals.

Professional education and regulatory frameworks

In Australia, professional education prerequisites include an undergraduate degree or a postgraduate master’s level qualification.

For health promotion practitioners to register with the Institute of Health Promotion and Education in the UK (a self-regulated body), they must attain either a Bachelor of Health Promotion and Public Health or a Master of Health Promotion and Public Health. To secure employment in the field, however, there is more flexibility around the qualifications of the applicant and will vary depending on the setting and nature of the role.

In Canada, these professionals typically hold a bachelor’s degree in a health science field, public, recreational, or hospital administration, or in social science. Alternatively, they can be qualified in a profession that practices health promotion.

Regulatory frameworks

An accreditation system has been developed and is administered buy the International Union of Health Promotion and Education (IUHPE).

The Australian Health Promotion Association (AHPA), a self-regulated body, administers the International Union of Health Promotion and Education (IUHPE) accreditation system in Australia. This involves voluntary registration and accreditation of relevant university undergraduate and postgraduate courses. There are currently 15 accredited courses in Australia.

This profession is not regulated in Canada; Health Promotion Canada developed the Pan-Canadian Health Promoter Competencies which help to guide best practice. Anyone can practice in Canada if they can demonstrate attainment of these competencies.

Health promotion workforce considerations

There is no doubt that these professionals play a pivotal role in securing the sustainability of the future health workforce, by developing and promoting health enabling environments and policies.

However, it can be difficult to convince health services and funders of public health to invest in this profession when the benefits are rarely evident in the short term.

In the current financial climate and the unprecedented burden on health systems, globally, attaining secure employment can be challenging. In Australia, for example, while there are other sources of funding—including the different levels of government, philanthropic and other funding—little over half of all people employed in this profession are working at full time capacity, including those with combined jobs.

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If you have questions about the health promotion practitioner profession, or if you wish to share your experiences of health promotion, please leave a comment below.

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