An Interview: My career in health promotion
BSc (Hons) Health and Society student, Hina Rauf, had the opportunity to interview Leeds City Council Health Improvement Principal Susan Blundell. Here they discuss Susan’s work in health promotion and how her master’s journey impacted her career.
Hina: Can you tell us a little bit about your current job?
Susan: It's slightly different now because of COVID-19, but normally my job is workforce development for the internal public health specialist workforce. This means ensuring that they have access to decent professional development opportunities and that we have transparent and quality processes to support good workforce development planning. We want people who are entering into public health and Leeds City Council to have clear expectations around career progression and we strive to create a culture of learning and professional development. In order to achieve this, we run a series of workshops and forums and develop job descriptions through HR processes.
The other part of my job focuses on engaging the city with their health wellbeing goals. We believe that everybody can contribute to the health and wellbeing agenda for Leeds. We have a service called the Public Health Resource Centre. People who volunteer or work in promoting health and wellbeing within Leeds can access resources, campaigns, training and seminar information. In addition, we have quite an active social media team that will promote messages and engage people with the campaigns and work taking place. We also lead on and deliver the Leeds Health and Wellbeing Training Programme across the city for our partners.
Most recently I have been working on the messaging surround COVID-19 and guiding people on how to stay safe and well.
Hina: What do you enjoy most about your job?
Susan: I have always had a real passion for addressing health inequalities and felt very passionately that nurses, doctors, social workers and teachers have a real contribution to make to the health and wellbeing agenda. I believe that the wider workforce has an important role to play. Now in my job I'm leading what that looks like and feel really honoured that I've been given this opportunity. Through the work I'm doing people are able to connect.
Hina: Would you be able to take us through your journey studying the MSc Health and Society?
Susan: I studied at Sheffield Hallam University, I qualified as a registered General Nurse and was working in acute care. We dealt with heart attack patients and would support them with their recovery. We would talk to them about a healthy lifestyle including sports, physical activity, healthy eating and stopping smoking. I started to question where there was more we could do to support people before they become unwell.
At this point I started MSc Health Promotion, the name changed halfway through the course to Public Health. I was introduced to health inequalities and the social determinants of health, where I also gained a political context as well as a medical perspective. The master’s completely changed my life and caused me to realise that I wanted to work in public health. I then trained to be a Health Visitor which allowed me to work in the community and engage in public health work. As part of my masters I explored the contribution of Health Visitors to community development and whether they had a role. Following this I got a job in Leeds as a Public Health Nurse.
Hina: How did your masters degree impact your job opportunities?
Susan: It completely changed my life and opened the door to something new. It changed both my mindset and views. At that point I had been unaware of health inequalities and community developments, so it transformed the way I saw health. Without completing that masters, I wouldn't have had the mindset to change. The Public Health Nurse role was a great job for me as it brought my masters knowledge and nursing experience together. Without the masters, I wouldn't have got that job.
Hina: What did you enjoy most about your university experience while you were studying?
Susan: Well, my initial undergraduate degree was BSc Nursing Studies which I studied in Glasgow. At the end of it I registered as a General Nurse. The degree provided me with the skills to be a nurse and also touched upon sociology, psychology and biology. The course made me realise that people had different life experiences to me. I was 18 and had lived in a small seaside town in in Scotland. People that I mixed with were of a similar race and class to me and had shared the same experiences. The degree was the first time that I saw that not everybody was the same as me nor did they have the same opportunities as me.
My next experience at university was when I studied for my postgraduate diploma, whilst also working as a nurse. Working full time and studying was different to the full university experience. I attended classes and mixed with classmates before returning to my job. My classmates were also doing different jobs on the course. It broadened my horizons as I was sitting next to people who worked in the voluntary sector and public health. There were nurses, doctors and teachers who all had different perspectives regarding health.
Afterwards, I was unable to get a job in public health so I started a BSc Community Studies course in order to become a Health Visitor. It was very much community-based and highlighted the impact of poverty on people. The job itself allowed me to see the reality of people's lives rather than just studying abstract theoretical exercises. I was working in a health institute supporting families and communities. I really believed in engagement and supporting people to maximise their opportunities. Through this I was working with people that endured such challenging lives. As a health professional we had a role to do and I sometimes used to get so frustrated with Health Visitors or other professionals. Some of the houses they visited were damp or cold and they didn't see it as their responsibility to get this rectified. We are aware that poor housing has a huge impact on people's health. This emphasised to me how important the people visiting other people’s homes are.
Find out more about our Health and Promotion Courses.