Meet Shirley O’Shea, Senior Health Promotion Officer (Physical Activity), Health Promotion & Improvement HSE South!

shirley o shea pic AHPI

What inspired you towards a career in health promotion?

I took an unconventional route to Health Promotion. When I left school I studied to become a Nursery Nurse; in the UK Nursery Nurses are employed with 0-7 year old children and I spent the next 10 years in many different Early Years settings from a preschool where English was not the first language to a Montessori school. In between I spent 2 years as a Nanny in New York. I always had an interest in health and fitness, I was tempted to do sports science but liked the broad appeal of Health Promotion. I was one of the first graduates of the BA in Health Promotion at Liverpool John Moores University; the majority of us were mature students from a wide variety of backgrounds and our lecturers were highly respected in the field. We had some very forward thinking modules for the mid 1990’s one of them was called ‘Challenging the Power Structures’ and ‘Anthropology of Health & Illness’  

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

I like that there is not a ‘typical day’ as such and I am lucky to work with a team of Health Promotion Officers for Physical Activity. Our role is to promote and increase opportunities for physical activity among key target groups within the population that are less active; women and girls, older people, people with a disability, disadvantaged communities. We work closely with Cork Sports Partnership on programmes that reach schools, communities, leisure sector and active retired groups. I work on some national projects one of which is a Health Research Board funded project Irish Physical Activity Research Collaboration (I-PARC). This will bring researchers, policy makers and practitioners together in a Knowledge Translation plan that will provide a Standard Evaluation Framework for effective interventions. A lot of work in promoting physical activity is done outside of the HSE so most of my work would involve many partnerships and forum in sport, leisure, education, transport and mobility. This ensures physical activity has a voice at the table when advocating for change.

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

Get involved in your community in any way you can, look for opportunities to volunteer or complete community based training that would increase skills and knowledge that could be transferable to a Health Promotion role. A lot of people working in the area of physical activity tend to have a personal involvement in sport, activity or coaching – all really useful experience and broadens your network of people and understanding of the area. has lots of ideas about community campaigns to get involved in and it helps if you are passionate about health issues

What does AHPI membership mean for you?

I only got involved again after a long hiatus. It is so important to have a national body with a voice for retaining Health Promotion expertise through an academic and career pathway. It would be great to see numbers grow and HP become a recognised profession.

What is your proudest moment working at …..

I don’t have an individual proudest moment but am most proud of all the volunteers you come across working in sport and physical activity for the love of it, especially with groups that have particular challenges and do not have the opportunities others take for granted.

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

At the moment is has to be the challenge of providing sound, evidence based practice in the world of ‘wellness’ experts, so many people jumping on the bandwagon especially in the area of health and weight management in particular. HP is long term work. Lots of quick fixes offered and health information overload!

You have been given a magic wand and are able to fix one problem (related to health/ health promotion), what would you pick?

I would like to see services for childhood obesity prevention and management offered in every community in Ireland. This would include a well-resourced community weight management programme for children and adults that has a balanced approach of health eating, physical activity and behaviour change elements to support people with managing weight. Families need practical support and guidance to make sustainable change but we need to facilitate and resource this to happen. If a tiny amount of the treatment budget could be targeted at prevention it would be make a huge difference.

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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.