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So, you want to be a Public Health Consultant? Part 2/3

By Rachel Fardon and Katie Bretherton

What is Public Health?

“The science and art of promoting and protecting health and well-being, preventing ill-health and prolonging life through the organised efforts of society”

Acheson 1988

Note: this post is a continuation of the previous post: "So, you want to be a Public Health Consultant? Part 1/3" - Go check it out before you continue!

Public Health Specialty Training Programme

So this is the bit you’ve been waiting for, how do you become a Public Health Consultant? Public Health Specialty Training is a five-year training programme to become a Public Health Consultant, a senior leader in Public Health. The Faculty of Public Health (FPH) describes a Public Health Leader as someone who:

  • Wants to focus on population health to deliver the greatest benefit

  • Has a passion to make the world a better place

  • Champions those who find it hard to be heard

  • Uses evidence and intelligence to convince

  • Works collaboratively with all stakeholders

  • Influences policy at the national level

  • Actively changes practice on the ground

If this sounds like you, or something you would like to do then you should consider applying to the training scheme.

What does the training scheme look like?

For each year you are on the training scheme (working full time) you will move through the phases below. Your first year is referred to as ST1, second year as ST2, etc. Less than full time working is available and the amount of time you are on the scheme is changed accordingly.

The milestones of the training programme are described above. Over the five years Registrars will have the opportunity to rotate around many different Public Health settings, which may include:

  • Local Authority (council Public Health teams)

  • Health Protection Teams

  • National and regional placements with OHID, UKHSA, NHSE

  • Academic Public Health - (typically based in universities)

  • NICE

  • Local partners - such as ambulance services, voluntary sector organisations, violence reduction networks, transport organisations.

Essentially you have some core elements you must complete such as a (paid-for!) Masters degree in Public Health, the DFPH and MFPH exams, and some designated time working in Health Protection and a Local Authority Public Health team. The rest of your time in the training scheme is yours to customise to your own Public Health interests and learning needs. As long as you are meeting your learning outcomes and you are passing your annual appraisals, you can work with your educational supervisors and TPD to tailor the scheme to your interests.

To find out more about our experiences of working as Public Health Registrars take a look at the recording of our recent event.

Application Process

The application process for specialty training typically opens in November of each year and has three stages. The Health Education Website is the best place to look for information about the application process. It is worth pointing out that Public Health Specialty Training is a competitive programme to gain entry to. In 2021 across the country there were approximately 8 eligible applicants for every 1 place available. This means that it’s not uncommon for people to apply multiple times before they are successful getting on to the programme. There are a couple of pieces of advice to give in relation to the competition ratios:

  • Don’t be put off applying! There are usually 60-90 places available each year and someone has to get them. If you don’t apply then you definitely won’t be successful!

  • You will perform better in the application process if you take time to practise and prepare. There are more specific tips below for each stage.

  • If you are unsuccessful, don't be afraid to try again! There are lots of incredibly successful Public Health Consultants who took multiple attempts to get onto the training programme, so don’t take it personally. Having been through the process before you’ll be better prepared for subsequent attempts.

Eligibility Checks

Applications are made via the Oriel system, with the first step involving eligibility checks. The eligibility checks for applicants coming from a medical background, or from a background other than medicine are slightly different. Medics generally need to provide evidence of either:

  • achieving their Foundation competencies (in the past 3.5 years from advertised start date)

  • a Certificate of Readiness to Enter Specialty Training form (CREST form) from a post of at least 3 months duration in the past 3.5 years

  • their National Training Number if transferring from a different specialty programme.

People applying from public health backgrounds will need to be able to demonstrate 24 months experience of working at Agenda for Change Band 6 or above (or equivalent if you have not been employed by the NHS). At least three months (working time equivalent) of this must be in the 3.5 years preceding the advertised start date.

You can check the specific eligibility criteria here - Demonstrating Competencies page

The tips provided in this article are based on personal experience from current Registrars and are not official FPH or HEE advice. Our tips for this stage of the application include:

  • For applicants from Public Health (non-medical) backgrounds:

    • Don’t just rely on your job title to demonstrate that you have the necessary experience. Explain how this role relates to public health e.g. “this relates to PH because….”

    • Make sure you can demonstrate the job meets Agenda for Change Band 6 (or above) criteria

    • It’s quite a time-consuming job to convey your eligibility within the given word limit so make sure you give yourself plenty of time to write and edit.

  • For all applicants:

    • Make sure you’ve written in your full work history in the appropriate section, including explaining any gaps in your employment

    • Double check that you have attached the right documents where required e.g. your foundation competencies certificate

    • Double check that all details (especially dates) are correct and don't forget to explain any gaps in employment

Assessment Centre

All applicants who pass the eligibility checks will be invited to an assessment centre, and from here onwards there is no difference in the process for applicants from medical or other backgrounds. The assessment centre involves three tests, which are all online multiple-choice exams taken together at Pearson Vue Centres. There is more information on the HEE Website - Assessment Centres but a summary of what to expect is provided below:

1. Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal: this tests your ability to think critically about given written information. This part of the test takes around 30 minutes, comprises 25% of your overall Assessment Centre score, and measures five abilities:

  • Drawing inferences – drawing conclusions from facts.

  • Recognising assumptions – assessing if a statement is justifiable based on a given assumption.

  • Deductive reasoning – weighing information to decide if conclusions are correct.

  • Logical interpretation – weighing different arguments based on a particular question or issue.

  • Argument evaluation – distinguishing between strong and weak arguments.

2. Rust Advanced Numerical Reasoning Appraisal (RANRA): which tests your numerical reasoning skills. The questions require you to have numeracy skills but also to then apply deduction, analysis, and interpretation skills in order to reach the correct answer. This part of the test takes around 40 minutes and comprises 25% of your overall Assessment Centre score.

3. Situational Judgement Test (SJT): which tests your personal and professional skills in relation to scenarios you may come across in a Public Health workplace. The test takes 100 minutes in total, comprises 50% of your overall Assessment Centre score and is split into two sections:

  • Part One: Ranking questions in which you rank five possible responses to a given scenario from “most appropriate” to “least appropriate”.

  • Part Two: Choosing three options (from a list of nine) which together form the most appropriate response to the given scenario.

Our tips for this stage of the application include:

1. Watson-Glaser

  • Most people use JobTestPrep question banks to practise the Watson-Glaser questions. There is a cost associated but there are rules you need to learn to apply to different sections of the test, so in our experience it is well worth the time and money investment.

  • Given the different rules for each section it is also worth carefully reading the instructions before you start answering questions in each section.


  • Similarly, most people use JobTestPrep question banks to practise the RANRA questions. Some people have also searched for GMAT and GRE question banks which have similar question types. As this exam is more complex than simply carrying out mathematical calculations, learning from the question banks is very useful.

  • The RANRA is a very time-pressured exam and you cannot use a calculator, so it is worth brushing up on your mental maths in advance. JobTestPrep has numeracy questions to help you to practise increasing your speed on long multiplication etc. If it’s been a while since you’ve tried to divide fractions or looked at algebra I also found it useful to use resources such as BBC Bitesize Maths to brush up on the methods.

3. SJT

  • This can be the hardest section to prepare for as there are so few resources specific to Public Health SJT scenarios available. It is worth reading Good Public Health Practice from the FPH website to get an understanding of what good professional and ethical Public Health practice means.

  • The style of the questions is similar to Foundation SJT questions, although the Foundation SJT question content is clinically focused, whereas in this assessment centre the question content will be Public Health focused. Nevertheless, some people have found it useful to take a look at the free Practice SJT papers and answers to get a better understanding of the style of the questions.

  • Particularly if you are working in Public Health settings at the moment, it is worth looking for opportunities to learn in practice. Consider using time in 1:1 meetings with seniors or other opportunities with colleagues to reflect on ethical or professional scenarios you may have encountered in practice, and how they might best be handled.

Selection Centre

Prior to the COVID-19 Pandemic, the Selection Centre was an in-person half-day session consisting of several exercises. Over the past couple of years and for this year (2022/23) the Selection Centre will be an online 30 minute interview. In previous years around 216 applicants have been interviewed, meaning approximately 3 applicants are interviewed for every 1 job available.

The content of the interviews cannot be shared with applicants, but these are some general tips to help you prepare for interviews:

  • Take some time to think about your motivation for applying for Public Health Specialty Training. Why do you want to work in Public Health? And why would you make a good Registrar?

  • Read over the ST1 Person Specification. This lists all the skills they are looking for in Public Health Registrars. Think about how you can demonstrate that you have these skills.

  • Keep up-to-date with what’s going on in the world of Public Health. We’ve suggested some resources below.

  • If you have a chance to interview other people in your current role, make the most of that opportunity to be on the other side of the table! Take some time afterwards to reflect on your own interview style.

After the interview, your assessment centre and selection centre scores are combined to give your overall ranking. You are able to log on to the Oriel website again to rank the available jobs across the country according to your preferences. Just to note, this function may become available before the interviews take place, so having access to this function does not necessarily mean you have been successful in securing an interview or a place in the scheme. You should rank any job that you would be willing to take. The offers are made in meritocratic order, and there is more information available here - Receiving Offers. All candidates (successful and unsuccessful) will receive some feedback some time later.

Stay tuned for Part 3/3, where we discuss preparing in advance for applications for this specialty!

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