We are starting off 2019 with our latest health promotion profile from Cáit Donnelly who is a Health & Wellbeing Coordinator at Special Olympics Ireland


What inspired you towards a career in health promotion?

I have always had an interested in the human body, nutrition and health, and I am passionate sportsperson so the undergraduate course in Health Science & Physiology in Sligo I.T. was a perfect fit. This was a great foundation and it’s where I first learned about Health Promotion and the possibility of a career in this area. I continued studying in Sligo I.T. and completed the add-on Honours Degree in Public Health and Health Promotion. I was lucky enough to start working in Health Promotion straight away and started as a Health Promotion Assistant in Diabetes Ireland. It was here I got the opportunity to put my Degree into practice and really experience working in Health Promotion.

What does a typical day look like for you and what are you currently working on?

I currently work with Special Olympics Ireland as the National lead for Health & Wellbeing programmes and initiatives. This is a role I really enjoy, I get to combine my interest and educational background in health & wellbeing with my passion for sport.

Special Olympics Ireland is a sports organisation for people with an intellectual disability and is perfectly placed to have a positive impact on the health and wellbeing of our athletes, on and off the sports field, continuing to highlight the important link between health & sport.

A typical day can be hard to define as projects and programmes can overlap and intertwine with other aspects of the work we do here in Special Olympics Ireland. In the broad sense of my role I develop (or further develop) and deliver health programmes and initiatives to increase access to health information and health services for Special Olympics Ireland athletes. I usually divide my work into 3 rough areas, for example:

  1. The Special Olympics Ireland Health Promotion Programme aims to empower our athletes with appropriate tools and knowledge to make healthier choices in their everyday lives. The Health Promotion Programme provides accessible health information for athletes, the programme is delivered through Special Olympics Ireland Clubs by volunteers who have completed our Health Promotion Facilitator training. My role here is to work with our Regional teams to identify Clubs to run the programme and suitable volunteers to become Health Promotion Facilitators in Clubs, deliver or support volunteer training, provide resources, provide advice and support in delivering the health workshops where necessary, and also design and deliver regular health messages to our Health Promotion Clubs.
  2. Through the Healthy Athlete Programme we increase access to health services for athletes while increasing awareness of the health inequalities of people with an intellectual disabilities among healthcare professionals. The Healthy Athlete programme provides free health screening to athletes, where they can access healthcare professionals in a friendly, less formal and more inviting environment. We know that people with intellectual disabilities in Ireland, our athletes, have a higher prevalence of health abnormalities and they do not always have access to specific care to meet these needs.

In Special Olympics Ireland we offer 7 disciplines in Healthy Athlete Programme which cover Fit Feet (podiatry), Special Smiles (dentistry), FunFitness (physiotherapy), Healthy Hearing (audiology), Health Promotion (health promotion and nutrition information), Opening Eyes (ophthalmologists), along with information on developing coping strategies and dealing with stress through Strong Minds.

I am delighted to also carry out Clinical Director role for 2 disciplines in the Healthy Athlete Programme, which include Health Promotion and Strong Minds.

I get the opportunity to work with a lot of amazing healthcare professionals who volunteer their skills, knowledge and time so willingly to the Healthy Athlete Programme, all for the benefit of Special Olympics athletes. I am very lucky to work in a job that I get to experience such kindness and in turn get to witness the immediate impact of a health programme on the lives of our athletes.

  1. Healthy Communities is where I work to signpost athletes to local community based organisations, so they can access services and health programmes, this encourages and supports health protective behaviours outside of their Special Olympics Ireland Clubs e.g. Parkrun, Swim for a Mile, Operation Transformation.

Right now I’m working with Team Ireland Head of Delegation and management team (coaches and chaperones) to help the athletes on Team Ireland in their preparation for the Special Olympics World Summer Games which will be held in Abu Dhabi in March this year. I organise workshops on various topics like healthy eating in relation to their preparation, Hydration and Sun Safety which is particularly important because of the hot climate in Abu Dhabi and an interactive Strong Minds workshop which involved Tai Chi which we hope will help the athletes to manage stressful situations while travelling or competing during the Games.

What advice would you give to anyone starting out in a career in health promotion?

Be open to jobs that give you opportunities to learn and fine tune your skills as well as network and get some practical experience under your belt. Also remember just because the title of the job doesn’t include the words ‘Health Promotion’ doesn’t mean you won’t use your Health Promotion knowledge or skills, always look at the role description, there may be an opportunity hidden in there!

What does AHPI membership mean for you?

Being a member of AHPI gives me a sense of community, and it a great way to stay up to date with what’s happening in Health Promotion in general, whether that is upcoming events, training opportunities, new research and developments. Being a member is also a great way to network and get in touch with others working in Health Promotion and a good understanding of the broad reach and varied careers there are.

What is your proudest moment working at Special Olympics Ireland?

At the recent Special Olympics Ireland Games which took place in June 2018 here in Dublin, was the first time Special Olympics Ireland ever offered all 7 disciplines of Healthy Athlete to athletes during the Games and it was the first time to ever offer Strong Minds. I was delighted to manage coordinate and implement the Healthy Athlete Programme at a national event, which has been the biggest at an Ireland Games to date.

What do you find the most challenging about working in health promotion?

Convincing people that Health Promotion works but it’s the ‘long game’ and to invest in the long game, for individual health but also for the long term health of the general population.

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Formed in 1997, the Association for Health Promotion Ireland provides a forum through which health promotion professionals can exchange knowledge and ideas.