Hot Desk

hot desk v,

to share a desk, office, or other work space between employees on different shifts or schedules; used here to denote the rotations of public health registrars and other medical trainees working in public health

Specialty Registrars in Public Health

Who are public health registrars? 

Specialty registrars are public health doctors. They are just like registrars in other medical specialties. They are training to be specialists or consultants in their field.  Like other registrars, public health registrars train within regional postgraduate medicine and dental deaneries: East of England, East Midlands, Wessex, London, KSS Deanery, Yorkshire and Humber Deanery, Oxford Deanery, South West Deanery, Northern Deanery, North West, Wales and West Midlands.

Where do you train?

In the UK, specialist accreditation in public health is provided by the Faculty of Public Health (FPH). This accreditation is done through a training programme that is usually five years and consists of sitting examinations to gain membership of the Faculty of Public Health (i.e. Diplomate and Membership exams) and working on the training portfolio (e-portfolio). This is a list of 10 key area of competencies which all public health trainees should achieve during their training for public health practice.  All competencies must be completed to a satisfactory standard before registrars are allowed to finish their training programme and be awarded a Certificate of Completion of Specialist Training (CCST). At this point, the registrar can look for a Consultant post either in Public Health or Health Protection.

The training programme is divided into two phases (5 stages).  The first phase (ST1 and 2) is 2 years or 30 months maximum and consists of a placement in local authority and 4 months in health protection.  During this time, the Diplomate and Membership exams are undertaken and registrars can do a master in public health course.  In phase 2 (ST3-ST5),   registrars avail of a number of different placements, including 'specialist' placements, such as a placement with a screening and immunisation team at NHS England.   In the final year, registrars are encouraged to 'act up' into a consultant post to gain further experience before qualifying.  All training placements must be accredited with GMC and will require an accredited educational supervisor and/or named clinical/project supervisors.  Each registrar's progress is assessed at an annual panel review called ARCP.

What does the job entail?

Like other medical registrars, public health registrars do rotations but instead of rotating around different wards or hospitals, public health trainees work in a variety of settings, such as local authorities (with local public health teams), Public Health England health protection teams, Department of Health, Public Health England public health intelligence or health improvement directorates, NHS England, hospitals and in academia. Public health registrars are mentored by Directors of Public health and other consultants, who act as advocates on behalf of the general or local population. Registrars (both medic and non medic) are also expected to do on call, where they are on call one in nine days. This largely comprises of taking notifications of infectious or communicable diseases from other medical professionals and ensuring that steps are taken to prevent close contacts with the infected individual from becoming ill. Sometimes an outbreak or a chemical incident may occur and trainees would work with their 2nd on-call (the consultant) in taking public health action. 

The work is essentially a 9 to 5 desk job and involves leading and initiating a number of projects, which have a dual purpose: getting your competencies signed off and helping to improve the health of the local population. The workload varies, depending on the project. Some are discrete pieces of work whilst others involve long term planning and the setting up of systems. The work itself can consist of policy or strategic planning, written reports, presentations to lay audiences, senior management or health professionals, doing evidence based research, teaching at universities or talking to the media.

Check out Public Health Estate Agent for more details on public health placements.

What about pay?

Medical speciality registrars in public health are paid the same as registrars in hospital settings. Since Agenda for Change, non-medical speciality registrars are paid a similar rate, which is calculated as a percentage of the final point on the NHS 8d salary scale (there are increments for each year of the programme).  

If your current pay exceeds that of a public health trainee, pay protection is offered. Salary also continues throughout any integrated Master of Public Health course. 

Both medics and non-medics receive a supplement (~20% of salary) for participating in the local health protection on-call rota.

Where can I get further information?

Information about the specialist training in public health programme can be found at the Faculty of Public Health.  This is essential reading as it outlines the minimum amount of public health or medical work experience that you need to have to apply. 

Health Education Authority website has some useful links to people currently involved in public health training such as

The regional deaneries host good general introductions on their websites, for example  Yorkshire and Humber School of Public Health and  London Deanery.  The London/UCL has a good introduction document on public health training.  You may also be interested in  Wessex Deanery's introductory video and Yorkshire & Humber's open day webinar.    

How do I apply?

The selection process is by coordinated recruitment process.  It is a 3 stage process - application, written assessment and selection centre.  If your application is successful, you are invited to a written assessment  (assessment centre) and if that is successful, you proceed to the selection centre (interview stage).  The interview stage consists of situational judgement tests that are designed to assess an individual's judgement regarding situations encountered in the workplace.  Candidates are presented with a set of hypothetical work-based scenarios and asked to make judgements about possible responses.  

There is one round of recruitment in November each year. Successful applicants start in the following August. The number of vacancies varies year on year but usually 60-90 places offered. 

To find out more details contact: or check out for the application process and deadlines.

What does the written assessment entail?

If you're successful at the application round, you'll be called to undertake numerical and verbal reasoning tests and a situational awareness judgement test. While there aren't any specific preparation books or tests you can do, many applicants practise using online resources that help people prepare for the GP training programme.   If you're successful at the written assessment, you will be invited for interview at a selection centre.

What happens at the selection centre?

This process involves a mix of scenarios, group work and panel questions. You need to show that you've had some experience in public health, you're really enthusiastic about working in public health and that you're confident you can do this. 

There is some reading you can do.  The 'Oxford Public Health Handbook' is quite good at helping you understand the managerial and leadership skills you need and for devising frameworks that you can apply to different topics. Donaldson & Donaldson 'Essential Public Health' is really good for an overall view. Be aware of the Wanless report (really old now but still relevant), particularly the catchphrase of 'reduce salt, reduce saturated fat, cut out smoking, reduce alcohol intake and exercise'. It can be used to answer a lot of health promotion questions!

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