Lisa Harold, Health Promotion Officer, The National Youth Health Programme with the National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI)
What inspired you towards a career in health promotion?
I have always had an interest in health from a young age, and even then realised it wasn’t just about healthy eating, being physically active, feeling mentally well etc but a mixture of lots of different health needs and how they need to be approached in a holistic way. I knew I would like to help and support people in some way as part of my future career, so I decided to do the BA in Health Promotion in Waterford IT in 2009 and it was the best decision I ever made. I left my hometown of Limerick at the age of 20 and went to Waterford on my own, not knowing anyone, but it soon became like a second home for me and holds a lot of fond memories from my time there.
What does a typical day look like for you and what are you currently working on?
Every day is so different working in the National Youth Health Programme! Some days I could be in a different part of the country delivering training to youth workers and people working in the out-of-school sector. Currently our trainings are focused on the areas of mental health and well-being (Mindout) and sexual health and well-being, looking at the areas of pornography, sexual health policy and consent. Other days there could be talks, workshops or conferences to attend that are of interest in terms of youth health. We also deliver our Certificate in Youth Health Promotion with NUI Galway and assess and present the Health Quality Mark (a health promotion award for the youth sector) to youth organisations across Ireland.
Currently I am conducting focus groups in a select number of youth organisations across Ireland as we are creating a consent training programme for the youth sector. It is really important for all of our trainings to be youth sector led and have young people’s needs at the core of everything we do. Our trainings are heavily reliant on the needs of the youth sector and are continually evaluated and adapted where needed. In terms of consent, we know from our other trainings and speaking with youth workers on the ground that this is an issue that is very prevalent for young people right now and we therefore want to support youth workers to have open conversations with their young people in terms of consent and the potential issues that may arise from this. We want to create a programme that is relevant to the youth sector and young people’s needs.
What advice would you give to anyone starting out in a career in health promotion?
Be patient and don’t give up as your passion is what will drive you onwards. It can be difficult to find a job that is classified specifically as a ‘Health Promotor’ however there are lots of jobs and areas that incorporate health promotion. Volunteering is a great way to see if you like working in a particular setting with a particular population too, plus it feels good to give back. Also going to conferences, particularly the Health Promotion Conference in Galway every summer as it is a good place to see what is currently happening in terms of health promotion research and practice whilst also networking and connecting with others in the area.
Joining the AHPI also as a member is great as there is that support in terms of job advertisements and any trainings or workshops coming up that might be relevant to the area of health promotion.
What does AHPI membership mean for you?
It means that health promotion is being taken more seriously in Ireland as the AHPI is a professional body that is properly recognised. It can be a great sharing space also and to generate ideas, learn from others and discuss the area of health promotion in a variety of settings with different experiences being brought to the table.
What does being a IUHPE Registered Health Promotion Practitioner mean for you?
This registration is fantastic, as again, it means the work I do as a Health Promoter is recognised and means quality health promotion work can be provided to people, it is not just an add on or something determined as ‘wellness’ and not taken seriously. People in the profession of health promotion are generally very dedicated, hard-working and have a fantastic knowledge in terms of health promotion theory but also in supporting and dealing with people which is a significant part of the role. To get this registration by an International body adds weight and merit to the role.
What do you find the most challenging about working in health promotion?
One of the most challenging things would probably be the vast array of knowledge and skills required to work in health promotion. There is the knowledge base and health promotion theory side of things but health promotion is also about working with and supporting people and developing those relationships can take a lot of time. It’s a challenge but a great one as so many skills can be developed, meeting great people along the way and gaining a greater knowledge base with the option to specialise too.
You have been given a magic wand and are able to fix one problem (related to health/ health promotion), what would you pick?
For me this would definitely be having a dedicated Health Promotion Officer in every school in the country- ambitious I know! There is a real need to have a dedicated person with a good background in health knowledge to be the ‘go to person’ in terms of imbedding health promotion practice throughout the setting they are working in. This can include providing health workshops and training, examining health issues and opening up the conversation in terms of all aspects of health. There is a lot of interest now in health prevention and in the area of health promotion. The huge gap in health knowledge in schools has been highlighted time and time again, whether it’s a lack of sexual health knowledge, poor mental health, poor nutrition, lack of physical activity or a general lack of life skills being developed once a young person leaves the education system. This huge gap in schools should not necessarily fall on teachers’ shoulders, given their already high and demanding workloads. There are a lot of qualified health promoters in Ireland very keen to work in this area and compliment the work that the teachers are already doing. I feel the education system should be more open to allowing Health Promotion Officers a fixed and permanent role in schools to support children and young people to be as healthy as they can be in all aspects of life.
We are taught consistently in health promotion that prevention is key so having a designated Health Promotion Officer to deliver on this would be so beneficial to children and young people as it would build their health and wellbeing foundations right from the start.