Pattison is an interdisciplinary scholar trained in practical theology, ethics, and public service management. He first worked at Birmingham University as temporary lecturer in pastoral studies from 1983-88. Subsequently, he was a health services manager, a senior lecturer in health and social welfare at the Open University, and then head of the School of Religious and Theological Studies at Cardiff University where he helped to establish the Centres for the Study of Islam in the UK, for Law, Ethics and Society, and for Chaplaincy Studies.
One of the original members of the International Academy of Practical Theology and former chair of the British and Irish Association for Practical Theology, he became director of the Doctor of Practical Theology programme at Birmingham (a programme run in collaboration with four other universities) and an honorary professor in medical humanities at Durham University. After nine years' service on the Ethics Committee of the Royal College of General Practitioners, he was made an Honorary Fellow of the College in 2013.