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The Evolution of Public Health Education and Training in the United Kingdom

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Abstract

The United Kingdom has a long and evolving history of public health education. From the initiation of formal standardised training for Medical Officers for Health in the early 1900s, to the current national public health training programme, public health education has adapted to the changing contexts of public health practice. Whilst the profession was originally only a medical specialty, subsequent recognition of the skills and contribution of the wider public health workforce has led to changes in professional specialist training for public health, which is now open to non-medical applicants. This well-established professional training scheme allows the formal accreditation of competence in a broad range of public health skills. The academic component of public health training is provided by a rapidly growing number of postgraduate courses. Once confined to the UK’s first school of public health, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and a handful of British Universities, the current 60 or so courses across the country are found in diverse university settings. Quality and standards in higher education are monitored by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education but there are no other professional accreditation schemes for postgraduate courses in public health nationally. Public health education and training continues to face challenges in the UK, notably the current government plans for major restructuring of the National Health Service (NHS) which threatens the loss of traditional NHS training placements and has created uncertainty around how professional training might be structured in the future. Whilst the long established tradition of public health education and more recent adoption of competency-based approaches to training gives some flexibility to meet these challenges, insight and innovative responses are required to ensure that public health education and training are not destabilised by these challenges. Revisions of the curricula of postgraduate courses and the competencies required for professional accreditation along with provision of experience in the new locations where public health is to be practiced in the future will be key to ensuring that public health professionals are ready to tackle the key issues that confront them.

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Author information

Correspondence to Helen Hogan MB BS, MSc, FFPH.

Additional information

Recommended Citation: Cole K, Sim F, Hogan H. The Evolution of Public Health Education and Training in the United Kingdom. Public Health Reviews. 2011;33:87–104.

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Key Words

  • Public health education
  • training
  • United Kingdom
  • Master of Public Health
  • Faculty of Public Health
  • professional competency