Health promotion officer

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Jacqui, 30

What does a health promotion officer do?

"The focus of health promotion is on prevention," says Jacqui, a lively bundle of energy. "It involves working with a population group and designing programs that will assist the health of that group." Population groups vary in size and type, and might range from an entire town, to a group of single mothers with different ethnic backgrounds living in a high-rise estate, or a recently settled Sudanese community in Melbourne.

Jacqui manages the macro and micro health needs of the various communities, which might mean lobbying the State and Federal Governments for funding or working with single mothers to stop them being socially isolated. "The aim is on prevention," Jacqui emphasises, "stopping things like depression, domestic violence or post-natal depression before they become unmanageable."

What does a typical working day involve?

Jacqui's typical working day means that she spends little time in her office. "I have meetings with representatives of different cultural groups and lots of on-site visits. There's heaps of interaction," Jacqui says. She might visit schools to assess their healthcare needs, run a presentation about promoting health to government ministers or meet with groups in community health centres. Time at the office is spent writing funding submissions, researching, making phone calls, and debriefing with colleagues.

Jacqui works around 45 hours a week. "A lot of commitments, like meetings with community groups, are held outside normal hours. And there's weekend work too," she says.

What are some of the pros and cons of the job?

"It's an absolute buzz to work with community groups or people who have just arrived from another country. I'm often their first point of contact and it's amazing to help them integrate," Jacqui enthuses.

Other pluses are the interaction with different types of people and the satisfaction of helping people improve their quality of their life. "I worked with a group of young people who were really struggling at school. They were having unsafe sex and injecting drugs and all sorts of stuff. We designed a project and by the end, they had heaps more self-esteem and confidence and leadership skills. Having such a positive impact is a huge high."

On the negative side she lists the lack of resources allocated to funding projects for health promotion and the relatively low wages.

How did you become a health promotion officer?

Jacqui studied an Arts-Commerce degree at uni, followed by a Master of Public Health. Jacqui explains why she was drawn to health promotion: "I was sick of fixing people up, rather than going to the source of the problem. I wanted to give people the information they needed to make choices about their health."

What sort of skills and qualities do you need?

"You have to be really non-judgemental, be able to work with all sorts of people and build a rapport quickly," Jacqui says. "You have to be resourceful and have a commitment to social justice." Other useful attributes include being adaptable, passionate, persistent and resilient to knock backs. "I have to reapply and reapply to get funding, and find creative ways to put a new spin or creative slant on the same information." She also says that you have to have a sense of humour, be friendly and "prepared to make a clown of yourself to get information across to a group".

Are there any tips for getting a job as a health promotion officer?

Jacqui suggests: "Do some study in health promotion and some volunteer work with community groups involved in social justice, like fundraising for international aid."

Find out more about this career path at myfuture.edu.au (new window) (Note: free registration is required to access the myfuture site).