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What does a Program Specialist do?

By Ian Christopher Abrams
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A program specialist is a type of skilled professional who works in an institutional or agency setting. An abundance of experience in his or her chosen field allows these professionals to take on a role that is focused on one or more smaller components of operations. This type of specialist often will act in a supervisory role for his or her area of specialty and in some cases will be responsible for the initial design of programs or later revision of established programs. The individual duties of a person in this career vary widely according to the mission of the institution or agency where he or she is employed, but the duties typically are assigned at the discretion of a director or other member of the management.

An education program specialist might work in settings as diverse as a museum, prison or adult rehabilitation center. In a museum setting, the program specialist would be responsible for implementing cooperative efforts with area schools, such as field trips, or sponsoring evening classes and information sessions at the museum. At a prison, an education program specialist could manage communications with outside instructors who would visit in order to teach convicts vocational skills. In an adult rehabilitation center, an education program specialist would help design and staff classes for recovering addicts that would provide information beneficial to learning about their addictions and courses of treatment. In all three cases, the specialist also would be responsible for support, feedback and other supervisory duties for the staff members working within their program or programs.

Health program specialists work primarily in conjunction with healthcare providers, but the size and nature of the provider varies greatly. Public hospitals as well as their private counterparts employ these types of specialists to ensure the proper distribution of important information about services. Smaller entities, such as community clinics, also use these professionals to design and implement outreach programs that offer free or discounted care to individuals within the community who are in need.

Any specialist must demonstrate significant experience in his or her field, but some larger agencies and institutions employ multiple program specialists in the same category and choose to distinguish them through ranking systems that correspond to pay grade and supervisory status. In these cases, the responsibilities of the specialist might be distributed among several individuals according to their work experience and skill level.

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Discussion Comments

By irontoenail — On Sep 15, 2011

@bythewell - Often volunteering is a good way to get some experience if you really want to become a program specialist. I volunteered at the SPCA for a while and I knew one of the girls there started out as a volunteer and eventually became one of their paid program specialists.

She worked online to advertise their open days and things like that, as well as coordinating with local hospitals and rest homes (like the one where your friend worked!).

I think eventually she was also put in charge of the volunteers. I don't envy her that position, as quite a few of the volunteers were really annoying. But she was very happy with her job.

By bythewell — On Sep 14, 2011

I knew a program specialist who worked at a retirement home once, and she really loved her job.

She would coordinate the volunteers so that they spent time with everyone who wanted the company. She would ask the local animal shelter to come by with some of the more gentle dogs and cats for visits and pats.

She would organize dances (which I sometimes came by and helped her with) where the folk at her home would be able to listen to their favorite music and show off their dance moves. A couple of them were really amazing too, although everyone had a good time!

She probably did all sorts of other things as well, but I mostly remember the activities I thought were fun. I'd love to have a job like that.

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