Published: 24/02/2005, Volume II5, No. 5944 Page 35

Not all directors of public health can claim to have co-authored a national service framework. But for Milton Keynes primary care trust director Nicholas Hicks (pictured), working on the coronary heart disease NSF was part of a career dedicated to improving health.

After qualifying at Oxford, Dr Hicks worked as a community medical officer in a poor part of Bristol. 'I had become interested in evidence-based research, the causes of disease and how they could be influenced. It was fascinating work - relevant and different.' After a stint in Santa Monica with the Rand Corporation on a research fellowship, Dr Hicks returned to Oxford when he took up a consultant post in public health at the health authority and university. 'It was a great time to be in Oxford. The key issue for us was heart disease and we developed a care programme that won an HSJ Award in the early 1990s.' He was then approached by the Department of Health to work on the coronary heart disease NSF. 'I was supposed to be there for one day a week and it turned into three-and-a-half years full time. I spoke the language of both doctors and civil servants, ' he says. 'I was very proud to see the NSF published; it is a credit to everyone involved.' Dr Hicks then joined the DoH's strategy unit, working on the inequalities section of the NHS plan. But he began to feel that he would be happier implementing policy than developing it, and joined Milton Keynes PCT in a joint department with the local authority two years ago.

Although his route into the role was unusual, Dr Hicks says there are much quicker career paths available.

'There is a shortage of people to fill the number of public health posts that have been created and the base from which they can be drawn has been broadened. Lots of people have gone from senior registrar jobs straight into director of public health positions.' But he fears some newly qualified doctors are reluctant to enter the field.

'As It is still quite a new area among some medical graduates there is a fear that working in public health would dilute their expertise. But It is a fabulous job; public health is a great opportunity to make a difference.'