Healthy living can be complicated. Recommendations for living a healthy lifestyle seem to change frequently. Additionally, the dividing line separating sound, factual medical information from unfounded hearsay or fuzzy concepts can become blurred, particularly when social media is added to the mix. This provides a one-two punch that could make adhering to a healthy lifestyle an intimidating and confusing proposition for someone to accomplish on their own.
Fortunately, health educators can offer individuals peace of mind in this regard. They can do so by translating the complexities of medical advice into easy-to-understand wellness plans aimed at improving personal health. For those interested in obtaining a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree and following this career path, it’s important to know what these professionals do and how to become a health educator.
What Does a Health Educator Do?
Health educators teach individuals and the public about lifestyle changes that can be incorporated into daily life to help meet health and wellness goals. When meeting with a client, health educators conduct a comprehensive assessment of the individual’s health priorities.
Once the educator and the client have collaboratively established goals, they discuss factors that may contribute to the individual’s inability to meet them. The educator then encourages the client to change any negative behaviors, often with suggested replacement actions to establish healthy habits that improve wellness. To be effective, health educators must stay up to date on the latest wellness research to ensure clients receive relevant and current information.
When working with the public in a community setting — such as a wellness center, public health department, college, health care facility, nonprofit, or private business — health educators’ responsibilities are tailored to the type of community they serve. They survey community members to determine their needs and then design programs, create materials, and host events to meet those needs. They may also help groups of people find resources and even advocate for improved health care policies.
Where Do Health Educators Work?
There are a variety of environments in which health educators may find employment. For example, hospitals frequently hire health educators to offer patients advice on necessary lifestyle changes. Alternatively, large companies that provide health benefits may find having a health educator on staff can help lower insurance premiums by tracking and encouraging the health habits of employees. These professionals may also work as independent consultants, recommending community or corporate wellness initiatives.
According to the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing (NCHEC), health educators may find work in the following settings.
- Community health education
- School health education
- Business and nonprofit health education
- Academia and university health education
- Government and health departments
- Health care
Steps to Become a Health Educator
Health educators can be gatekeepers for their client’s health and wellness strategies. This inherently makes the role a crucial one —and one that requires education and certification. Below are some essential steps for those who want to know how to become health educators.
Step 1: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree
To become a health educator, candidates should hold at least a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field, such as health promotion or education. Earning a degree at this level can help develop foundational skill sets and knowledge of core concepts that are important to health education, such as building specific wellness programs and teaching others how to follow the program’s principles.
Step 2: Earn an Advanced Degree
For positions that require the development of complex health initiatives, employers may prefer someone who holds a graduate degree, such as an MPH or even a doctorate. Earning a degree such as an MPH can deepen and expand the knowledge and skills initially established by a bachelor’s degree. This could ultimately enable health educators to develop more complex, sophisticated health and wellness strategies for their clients.
Step 3: Gain Certification
Some employers require that prospective health educators possess certification to further demonstrate competency in the field. This makes obtaining certification important from a professional standpoint. There are different certifications available depending on education level.
The NCHEC offers the Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) exam, which is designed for health educators with undergraduate degrees. Alternatively, those with a graduate education can take the Master Certified Health Education Specialist (MCHES) exam. To maintain either certification, health educators are required to complete 75 hours of continuing education courses every five years.
Health Educator Salaries
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for health education specialists was $56,500 in 2020. Health educators who worked for hospitals earned the most, while those who provided services to individual or family clients earned the least.
\Salaries can also vary based on location, years of experience, and industry. According to the BLS, health educators who worked at state, local, and private hospitals earned a median annual salary of $65,530 in 2020. Conversely, health educators working in individual and family services earned a median annual salary of $43,400 in 2020.
Future Growth of Health Educators
While there may be some specific requirements to become a health educator, the job outlook may make taking those steps worth it. The BLS projects the employment of health education specialists to increase by 12% between 2020 and 2030. This is much faster than the 8% projected growth for the job market as a whole.
Because of the increasing focus on disease prevention and wellness, the services provided by health educators are rapidly becoming a staple in medical care. Instead of waiting until an individual is sick or has developed a chronic condition, medical professionals are emphasizing the need to identify wellness gaps that could contribute to poor health later in life.
Health educators are an important tool in helping prevent health concerns. Executive checkups, for example — comprehensive exams to review patients’ diets and lifestyles — are designed to be proactive and preventive. They are becoming more popular and offer much more than the traditional annual physical. Now, patients can obtain an assessment of their overall risk for health infirmity, and meet with consultants such as health educators to develop a wellness plan for disease prevention.
Taking the First Step
Health educators play an essential role in helping people maintain their health. Whether an individual has a high risk of developing a specific condition or simply wants to reduce the effects of aging, a qualified health educator can offer insight into the positive actions that promote wellness and the negative behaviors that should be avoided.