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By Matthew Day, Public Health Registrar, NHS Wakefield District

When I started my public health training I had a three day local induction to get to know colleagues and learn from a range of speakers in public health from around the Yorkshire and Humber region. I found it useful as it provided inspiring insights and top tips on how things work in the specialty, as well as the time to connect with new colleagues. But while different deaneries strive to bring local trainees together through induction programmes and local events, how would it work nationally?

The idea of developing a ‘corporate identity’ for public health trainees was floated at the recent Public Health Futures event, organised by Sir Muir Gray and the Informing Healthier Choices team. Despite sounding like management speak, the fundamental point is a good one. While we all fight different public health battles at local, regional, and national levels, a better networked public health workforce developed through years of training would only be of benefit.

Sir Muir described his vision of the CMO welcoming all the new trainees personally. I can imagine the event: a handshake and pat on the back each, the CMO maybe throwing in a visionary comment about future public health challenges:

Trainee 1: “Er…hello Sir….

CMO: “Welcome to our specialty, son. Go forth and reduce inequalities…”

And then at the induction dinner that evening:

Trainee 1: “What did he give you?”

Trainee 2: “Coronary heart disease.”

Trainee 1: “You think that’s hard, I got inequalities…”

Jokes aside, rather than a pie in the sky idea, the underlying concept of a ‘national public health bootcamp’ for the new 2010 trainees has some merit.  Trainees 1 and 2 would stay in touch, collaborating, sharing and not duplicating important work on their interrelated subjects. In fact, this vision was already being taken forward after the event in the shape of the new national trainees’ website.

With Sir Liam Donaldson’s video message, and his imminent departure from Westminster, there was also a strong sense of the public health baton being passed on to us. Indeed, the baton we inherit bears the labels of a mix of hefty issues: obesity, alcohol (particularly minimum pricing), sustainability and health inequalities. In a show of hands vote, the majority of trainees in the room voted health inequalities as the single most important issue for our generation.

But very often public health is also about getting the right messages across to an audience, and doing it well. At the event, Sir Muir Gray quipped that “public health is about ‘performance,” and with his keynote speech Sir Michael Marmot gave a master class in how to engage with an audience. Indeed, in the shadow of a forthcoming election where spin-doctors are drawing battle-lines between ‘substance’ and ‘performance’, the message I took from the day as a whole is that we in public health must be experts, world leaders even, at both. We must deliver top-notch quality science and evidence base for our work and continually improve how we communicate that science and evidence base to an audience, be it the public, policy makers or the health sector.

National networking amongst trainees is certainly needed to help develop these skills so perhaps the sooner we’ll be pulling up those boots the better.

  • See the slides from the Public Health Future’s ‘Killer Slide’ competition with some brilliant examples of robust evidence base and great communication skills coming together
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