Health Promotion Officer
Malachy Nixon is urging men to ‘get a grip’ and take charge of their health and well being
What does your role involve?
The purpose of my job is to promote two key health promotion messages: prevention and early detection of cancer. I do this by delivering a range of health promotion programmes such as cancer awareness sessions and healthy living programmes within various settings including schools, youth clubs, workplaces and community groups.
As the only man on Action Cancer’s Health Promotion team, the main focus of my work is centred on male health. This September we’re launching an Action Man Programme to help workplaces support the health and wellbeing of their male employees. The programme aims to motivate men to take their health seriously and raise awareness of male specific cancers by encouraging participants to set their own personal targets, such as weight loss or increase muscle mass, and make practical and positive lifestyle changes to help reach them within a set 12 week period.
How did you get into the position in the first place?
It’s not very common for a man to work in health promotion - I was the only male in my post graduate class of around 30. But I’ve always been interested in sports and fitness and the idea of promoting a healthy lifestyle, so when the position at Action Cancer came up I jumped at the chance and was lucky enough to get it.
Did you always want to work in this sector in some capacity?
I was always told that I would make a good teacher and to be part of the voluntary sector, the idea of giving something back, had always drawn me. To be able to combine both was the dream job for me.
What training or previous experience do you have that has helped you in your current role?
To date I have completed a degree in Health and Leisure studies and a post graduate diploma in Health Promotion and Population Health. During my studies I gained practical work experience as a PE teacher in a number of schools, and as a voluntary Alcohol and Substance Abuse officer for my local football club.
My studies have helped support the theory behind the work I deliver on a daily basis, while the practical experience helped hone my teaching skills and develop a better understanding of young men in particular, and what they respond to in an educational environment.
I have also undertaken various training courses during my time at Action Cancer. I am now qualified to deliver our smoking cessation programme and am a qualified Boxercise instructor. We use Boxercise as part of our Health Action programme for schools, which is sponsored by retailer Centra, using boxing moves to get young people more active.
What is your organisation's role in the local community?
Action Cancer is Northern Ireland’s leading, local cancer charity and works across the country helping to save lives and support people affected by cancer. We do this by offering life-saving early detection services, including breast screening and health checks, counselling and support services, and cancer prevention and health promotion.
We also have the Big Bus, a state-of-the-art mobile unit, which is sponsored by independent retail group SuperValu. This facility allows us to deliver the screening service, health checks, lifestyle education and weight management advice right to the doorstep of communities across the country.
And how does your role fit in as part of this?
My role is to increase awareness of cancer and to reduce cancer incidence through various health promotion programmes. Through male health in particular, I try to get men to take their health more seriously, educating them on the different signs and symptoms of cancer so that if they do find anything unusual, they will go straight to their GP.
I also carry out MOT health checks that can involve testing blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, lung capacity and body composition analysis, as well as offering lifestyle advice. The results of these checks often encourage the individual to reflect on their current lifestyle and change it for the better.
What sort of personality and qualities do you need to do your job successfully?
You are dealing with different people every day so it’s important that you are people-orientated and a good communicator: you have to be able to connect with people. As it is not a typical 9-5 job and requires quite a lot of travel, you also need to be very motivated and flexible.
What are the biggest rewards of the job? And the biggest challenges?
As I keep in touch with many clients through repeat bookings, I often get the chance to see when my work makes a real difference to someone. That’s really rewarding. And meeting so many different personalities is definitely a highlight!
The biggest challenges can often be when dealing with men. They can be very hard to engage with at times and can be less receptive to the information you’re providing. Many adopt the, ‘If I don’t know about it, I don’t have it,’ attitude which is something we’re working hard to change.
What's the best piece of advice you've ever been given?
A university lecturer once told me, ‘It doesn’t matter how difficult your task is, it’s about how well you do it.’ For me it’s important that whatever I do, I do it to the best of my ability.
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to do the same job?
Although it can be hard work at times, it’s an extremely satisfying job. If you enjoy working with people, believe in health promotion and are prepared to lead by example, go for it!
What do you enjoy doing outside work?
I coach my local youth football team and try to play the odd time, but I must admit, I do it rather badly! What they say about those who can’t play, teach is certainly true on this occasion. I also enjoy a good game of golf but am a bit of a fair weather golfer – I’m only out when the sun shines.
Tell us an interesting fact about yourself:
I did a bungee jump in Hungary a few years back and quickly realised I had a massive fear of heights...
* You can contact Action Cancer on 028 9080 3344 or at www.actioncancer.org