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What it’s really like to be a health promotion officer

With so many careers in health care, sometimes it’s difficult to know what to specialise in.  For Rachael Sinclair, a program officer at WorkSafe in Melbourne, a clinical role was always on the cards. So what happened to make Rachael switch her study to a major in health promotion?

As a graduate of Deakin’s Bachelor of Health Sciences, Rachael soon understood the potential and importance of prevention, while studying health promotion subjects. She realised that you can stop people from ever becoming unwell through enabling them to lead healthier lives. She wanted to be a part of that.

Rachael thinks that the essence of health promotion can be captured in a famous quote one of her first-year lecturers told her class: ‘you have to stop pulling people out of the river, and instead go upstream to find a way to stop them all from ever falling in’.

Read on for some of Rachael’s insights into what it’s like to promote health, and to change people’s lives for the better.

What skills should you have to be a good health promotion officer?

‘You need to care about people and genuinely want to help them achieve better health outcomes,’ Rachael says. ‘Having the drive and motivation to keep pushing for change even when you encounter obstacles is also important.’

‘Health promotion officers have a wide range of skills. You’ll need technical skills and knowledge, such as how to apply the social determinants of health and other health promotion models, and how to design, implement and evaluate health promotion programs.’

Rachael explains that there’s also a lot that comes from on-the-job learning: ‘You work with a huge variety of stakeholders from diverse backgrounds in health promotion, and being able to communicate and facilitate outcomes with these groups is essential. You need to be adaptable and flexible when plans and projects change – which they frequently do!’

What does a typical day look like for a health promotion officer?

‘There really is no typical day in my job, which is great because it means there’s a lot of variety in the role. I guess most days include meeting with both internal and external stakeholders. There’s also quite a bit of desk-based work such as developing project plans, writing briefings, scoping policies and researching evidence and best-practice.’

Rachael is currently working on the development of a new program that will be launched statewide early next year. ‘It’s a really exciting thing to be a part of,’ she says.

'You need to care about people and genuinely want to help them achieve better health outcomes'

Rachael Sinclair,
Deakin alumnus

Is being a health promotion officer rewarding and challenging?

‘Working in health promotion is incredibly rewarding, because your role is all about helping people achieve better health, and in doing so hopefully live longer and happier lives,’ Rachael explains.

‘One of the key challenges in health promotion can be selling the message. Changing health outcomes doesn’t always mean taking the easy road, whether this is at an individual or more social/environmental level. But if you do keep advocating for change, it does slowly happen. Look at the amazing things health promotion has achieved in relation to tobacco legislation in Australia!’

Where are you most likely to work as a health promotion officer?

‘Everywhere! I didn’t really appreciate how diverse the industry was, and how broadly applicable the health promotion skill set is when I first started out.’

There are many opportunities for health promotion in local government, the not-for-profit sector, private enterprise and at a very grass-roots level in community agencies. Rachael’s first role was in a graduate program and she’s worked in a government role for the last 4.5 years. ‘This really suits me as I enjoy the state-based strategic and policy angle,’ she explains.

What do you like most about being a health promotion officer?

‘I love feeling like I can contribute to a better society. Health promotion is all about enabling people to increase the control over their own health. At the end of the day, my job is all about helping people to achieve better health.’

Rachael adds: ‘The profession is so varied; there are so many facets of health and well-being, so there’s always new and exciting work to be done.’

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