How to Become a Health Educator

Are you health conscious? Do you enjoy helping others make good lifestyle choices? If yes, you might consider a career as a health educator or health education specialist and play a crucial role in the well-being of communities around the globe. Work with citizens, governments and medical professionals to improve the health and wellness of the community.

If you are interested in following this career path, it is important to understand what a health educator is, the responsibilities of the job and how to become a health educator.

What is a Health Educator?

Health educators teach their clients about lifestyle changes that can help them meet health goals and make wellness an important part of daily life. To be effective, health educators must keep up with the most recent wellness research to make sure clients receive relevant and up-to-date information.

Similar Careers in Public Health Education

Within the field of public health education, you may come across several careers that are similar to a health educator:

  • Community health educator: Promotes good health and disease prevention within a community.
  • Community health worker : Serves as a liaison between health and social services and the community.
  • Health education specialist: Teaches behaviors that promote wellness.
  • Certified health education specialist: Specialists who pass the NCHEC CHES certification exam.

How important is health education? 

In spite of efforts by health officials and insurance companies to curtail bad habits across the nation, Americans continue to make poor lifestyle choices.

According to health data from the CDC National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS):

One way to help Americans improve their health and well-being is through education. Understanding lifestyle options and consequences is essential to making the necessary changes.

What does a Health Educator do?

Health education careers involve a wide range of work. As a health educator, your job responsibilities may include:

  • Assessing the health needs of people and communities you serve.
  • Developing programs, materials and events to teach people about health.
  • Teaching people how to manage existing health conditions.
  • Evaluating the effectiveness of programs and educational materials.
  • Helping people find health services or information.
  • Providing training programs for community health workers or other health professionals.
  • Supervising staffers who implement health education programs.
  • Collecting and analyzing data to learn about a particular community and improve programs and services.
  • Advocating for improved health resources and policies that promote health.

Important Skills Required for a Health Educator

Some desired skills to become a health educator may include:

  • Understanding basic medical terminology and concepts.
  • Proficiency searching PubMed and MedlinePlus, along with other academic and consumer medical literature databases.
  • Proficiency with all Microsoft applications to manage daily tasks.
  • Written and verbal communication to develop health education materials to audience and proposals to develop programs and apply for funding.
  • Problem-solving and interpersonal skills to solve problems that arise in planning programs, such as budget changes and negotiating with stakeholders. 
  • Organizational and instructional skills to speak in public, lead programs and teach classes.
  • Proficiency in a foreign language is not mandatory but may be helpful.

Steps to Become a Health Educator

To become a health educator you will need at least a four-year bachelor’s degree. A graduate degree and certification, while not necessary for many health education positions, can prove invaluable. Here are the common steps to become a health educator: 

Step 1. Earn a bachelor’s degree

The minimum education you will need to become a health educator is a bachelor’s degree in public health, education or a related field with at least 25 credits devoted to health education and its advancement. Although degrees and coursework vary by school, you will want to notify your department chair that you wish to graduate with the essential coursework to become a certified health education specialist so he or she can assist you when choosing classes for eligibility.

Step 2. Gain work experience

Regardless of your field of study, you should gain some hours of direct experience either by shadowing a professional or hands-on practice. This experience will help prove your commitment to your education and professional training to future employers. You can use the opportunity to explore other facets of health education.

Step 3. Consider a master’s degree to advance in a career

A graduate degree can be of benefit if you are interested in advanced supervisory or administrative positions. In the field of community health, some common programs include community health education, school health education, public health education and health promotion. If you would like a better understanding of public health, a Master of Public Health (MPH) might be an option. This degree has concentrations in community health education and health promotion that might fit your needs for becoming a professional in health education. 

Step 4. Earn certifications

Some employers require health educator candidates to have certification, which is earned after passing the Certified Health Education Specialist Exam (CHES) from the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing (NCHEC). Although this is a voluntary certification, it may open more opportunities for you.

The Master Certified Health Education Specialist examination (MCHES) is an advanced certification offered to health education professionals who have worked in the field for at least five years, have passed the NCHEC exam and meet the continuing education requirements.

Please note that most public health certifications are optional, but only specialists with these certifications can address themselves as Certified Health Education Specialists.

Step 5. Work as a health education professional

Enter the workforce as a health education professional. It is essential to stay current with continuing education throughout your career to maintain certification.

Career Outlook and Salary Expectations

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job outlook for health educators and community health workers is expected to grow 11% from 2018 to 2028, which is much faster than average for all occupations. The average salary in 2019 for a health educator was $55,220.

Work Settings for Health Education Specialists

According to the BLS, institutions that employed the greatest percentage of the 62,100 health educators in 2018 were:

  • Government: 24%
  • Hospitals: 23%
  • Religious, grantmaking, civic, professional and similar organizations: 8%
  • Individual and family services: 8%
  • Outpatient care centers: 7%

Typical work environments for health educators include:

Government: A health program analyst can help government agencies promote their health education programs through marketing and public relations. This role involves compiling and analyzing extensive data.

Hospitals: A community benefits manager uses a variety of methods such as marketing campaigns, volunteer coordination, program promotion to advance health education for new parents or other patients. 

Corporations: To help keep insurance costs down businesses hire an employee wellness coordinator to create a wellness program that may include exercise sessions, employer-covered gym memberships and resources that promote positive mental health.

Colleges and universities: Schools look to promote health and wellness among the student body. A youth program specialist can promote health education programs and resources that help students of any age.

Health educators play an essential role in promoting wellness and helping people maintain a healthy lifestyle. If this career sounds appealing and you are considering a master’s degree, a master’s in public health online may be the right option.

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Information last updated September 2020