Environmental health: a global profession with a local impact

09 October 2023, Dr Henry Dawson CEnvH MCIEH, Lecturer in Housing and Health at Cardiff Metropolitan University

A glass ball that looks like planet earth sat on top of moss on a forest floor

Following our celebration of World Environmental Health Day, where we heard from members about their varied roles protecting public health, we are continuing to share member content which shines a light on the varied opportunities of a career in environmental health. In this blog we hear from Dr Henry Dawson on why he finds working in environmental health so rewarding, and the breath of experiences that the role has taken him on.

Why I work in environmental health

I got into environmental health about 20 years ago and the reasons I moved into the profession (to my surprise) seem to be the same reasons I am still proud to be in environmental health now.

I found environmental health in a small careers pamphlet back in 2002 and spent a bit of time shadowing a local authority officer before taking the plunge and starting a Master’s degree course in the subject to move over into the profession. Whilst searching for new career areas I had listed all the things that were important to me in a job. They included:

  • Helping people and putting some good into the world
  • Making an impact with what I did in my work
  • Doing a role which was about working with people
  • Doing something which had a lot of variety
  • Finding a profession where I could move about the country and even work abroad
  • Having a role which was challenging and involved a lot of problem-solving
  • Being out of the office for plenty of my working day
  • Stopping people from getting sick or hurt
  • Working at a professional level

For about ten years I moved through a number of local government roles doing all areas of environmental health but spent most of my time in housing. I loved housing, as when you make a change to someone’s home it has a big impact on those living there and carries on doing good for decades afterwards. I did housing enforcement for a large urban council and spent a lot of time working to help good private landlords and taking enforcement action against the less compliant operators.

Working as an environmental health academic

After a decade of this and a lot of prosecutions and legal notices, I moved into work as a university lecturer. I now work in a role on an undergraduate degree programme in environmental health and have found that through this role I could increase my impact, from helping individuals to educating whole year groups of students to go out and get involved in the profession. Sending out waves of people to fly the flag for environmental health.

In addition to the teaching side of my post, I also do research. This has opened up opportunities to advance areas of knowledge that would support the whole profession. I can get involved in projects which would influence the direction of policy and practice in my chosen area of housing. All this has meant that I am still contributing to promoting the public’s health and advocating for those unable to fight for themselves but with much more reach and impact.

All universities really like collaboration, so I have pushed this area in my current role. I have become well-practised in applying for grants to either teach overseas or take our students overseas. I have been fortunate to be involved in exchange visits to Uganda, Malawi, Jordan, Lebanon and India. Each time I go on these trips I mix up groups of students from different nations in the real world and online. It always seems to surprise them just how similar environmental health is in other parts of the world.

Fundamentally, the challenges we face and the wider determinants of health we tackle require the same approaches and the same ethos in our environmental health professionals wherever they are in the world. We really are a global profession with a local impact.

I am still proud to call myself an environmental health professional and I still support all that the profession stands for. It is a great area to work in and allows me to make a positive difference to the world and improve people’s lives.

Dr Henry Dawson at the Ugandan equator

Image courtesy of Dr Henry Dawson. Taken whilst guiding Cardiff Metropolitan University students on a visit across the equator in Uganda.

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