Meet the Expert: public health intelligence principal Garth

Meet the Expert is a live video session run by My World of Work, where experts discuss their roles and offer tips to young people considering a similar career. In the session, young people can ask questions and gain insight into the expert’s work.

NHSScotland public health intelligence principal, Garth, recently attended a Meet the Expert session to talk about his work.

As a public health intelligence principal, Garth’s role includes leading reviews and presenting evidenced-based research for public health policies and programmes.

Garth’s journey to becoming a public health intelligence principal

Garth was born and grew up in Malawi, in southeast Africa. He returned to Scotland and, when he entered secondary school, became interested in Biology.

He decided to continue his interest in Biology by completing an undergraduate degree in Genetics at the University of Aberdeen. He then did a master’s degree in Public Health and a PhD.

After finishing his university education, Garth decided he wanted a job where he was involved with people and improving health in developing countries. As a result, he spent 5 years in Ghana focusing on improvements to maternal mortality.

Garth then returned to Scotland and got a public health role with NHS Lothian. There, he focused on a teenage pregnancy project, working with young people to reduce teenage pregnancy in Lothian. He loved working with his NHS colleagues and shared their passion for public health improvements.

Garth then moved into a role in the evaluation team of Health Scotland, which is now part of Public Health Scotland. He worked on public health projects focused on:

  • tobacco
  • alcohol
  • eCigerettes

When Health Scotland became part of Public Health Scotland, Garth became the head of the knowledge and research hub. He works to bring academics and other research communities closer to the kind of operational work that he does. He believes that a close link between academics and the NHS will have the biggest impact on improving health.

Garth says he’s always focused on what he wanted to do and what he was good at. He then worked hard at those subjects to achieve good grades.

Audience questions

Garth received lots of great questions from school pupils.

One pupil asks how Garth’s work has changed since the COVID 19 pandemic.

Garth explains that before the pandemic, his work had more of a long-term focus. He was looking at addressing issues like smoking and alcohol and developing policies that might only start having real impact years later.

Now that his work focuses on COVID 19, the pressure and time scales have changed. Garth says his team must work hard to gather, interpret and present the correct information as quickly as possible. Garth needs to work quickly to help on evidence-based policies for issues like:

  • quarantine following international travel
  • school closures
  • vaccinations

Another student asks what the most important skills are for Garth’s role.

Garth mentions lots of useful skills for work in public health, such as:

  • caring
  • motivation
  • collaboration
  • team work
  • leadership
  • flexibility

Alongside his technical skills in quantitative and qualitative research, these skills really help Garth do his job.

Find out more about your transferable skills in our transferable skills video.

Next, Garth has a question asking what subjects might be useful for a career in public health.

There’s a huge range of public health roles, Garth explains, so no matter what your skills are you could work in public health. If you’re good at maths, you could do quantitative analysis which is useful for public health. If you’re passionate about community outreach, you could also find a rewarding job in public health. If you like working on topics like literacy, communications or social media, there are also relevant public health roles. Garth encourages everyone to follow what interests them and to work hard at those subjects because that will lead you in the right direction.

Finally, Garth answers a question about what experience might be useful to understand what it’s like to work in public health.

Garth explained that he had done volunteering at a care home. His experience getting to know elderly people and helping with their care taught him a lot, so he would encourage students to do some volunteering.

Find out more about NHSScotland volunteering.

Garth also mentioned work experience as a hospital domestic assistant. This work gave him an appreciation of the great work of hospital domestic assistants. It also helped him understand how the NHS is run, so he would recommend work experience too.

Learn more about NHSScotland work placements.

Attending Meet the Expert sessions

If you’re a school teacher interested in having your class attend future Meet the Expert sessions with NHSScotland employees, get involved by signing up at My World of Work.

View Garth's Meet the Expert session on Youtube.

Learn more about other careers in the NHS, by reading our blog about podiatrist Hannah and dietitian Scot.