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Health Educator

Alternate Career Titles: Health Education Specialists, Certified Health Educator, Certified Health Educator Specialist

Career Overview: Health Educators inform people on how to live healthy lifestyles that promote wellness.

Career Salary Range: $31,440 to $97,160

Estimated Years of Schooling Required: 4

Required Minimum Degree/License: Bachelor’s Degree in Health Education for Health Promotion

Health Educator

Become a Health Educator

Career Description

A Health Educator is responsible for teaching people how to live in a way that promotes wellness. In accomplishing this, these professionals will assess the health needs of individuals and larger communities, develop educational materials, evaluate program effectiveness and assist people in locating needed health services or information. Health Educators will also teach people how to best manage existing conditions and will advocate for improved health resources and policies. In this position, professionals may also be required to supervise educational staff members, provide training programs for community health workers and other health professionals and collect and analyze data on a particular community’s needs.

“The main goal of a Health Educator is prevention, whether through preventing a specific health condition or preventing a condition from getting worse,” Koreena Villarreal, MEd, CHES, said. “Unfortunately, our country’s education system does not place as much value on healthy living as on every other topic, but we need this information to tackle life.”

Villarreal added that proper sleep, stress management and vital levels are all integral parts of everyday life. That being said, when someone is in an optimal state of health, excelling at work, relationships and everyday tasks becomes much easier.

“Arming people with the knowledge to control their own health outcomes and empowering them with the skills to live their best life is extremely rewarding,” Villarreal explained. “Not only do I feel like I am making a positive difference in someone’s life, but I know I am making a difference in their loved one’s lives, our country’s economy and our society as a whole.”

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Education & Training

To become a Health Educator, learners must complete a Bachelor’s Degree program in either health education or health promotion. During these programs, learners will receive instruction on theories and methods of health behavior, and will also be required to complete an internship. After graduating, professionals may choose to become certified by taking an examination administered by the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing, Inc. To maintain this certification, Health Educators must complete 75 hours of continuing education every 5 years.

Upon securing employment, Health Educators will normally receive some on-site training to learn core competencies. This can include learning about a specific healthcare topics, such as Autism.

“I received a Bachelor’s Degree in health and wellness promotion, a Master’s Degree in health education, then took the exam to become a Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES),” Villarreal said. “The entire process took about 6 years.”

Advancement

One way to advance in a career as a Health Educator is to pursue a Master’s Degree or Doctoral Degree program in community health education, public health education, health promotion or school health education.

“Research would be the most effective route to advance.” Villarreal explained. “The field of health education is fairly new, so our contributions to the bodies of research in public health are what make us valuable. This research also helps to validate our expertise.”

She added that after she graduated, she submitted her Master’s Degree thesis to the Journal of American College Health, a year later the paper was accepted and published in 2015. Villarreal believes the experience of having the peer-reviewed journal submission and publication processes, on top of having a new publication under her belt, made her much more marketable in the field.

“Even now, I’m one of the newest and youngest members on my health education team, but I am selected over everyone else to take on certain projects and collaborative efforts because of that extra research experience,” Villarreal said. “If I were to go back to school for a doctoral degree, that would most likely limit me to a career in higher education and continued research efforts. That’s the goal for many health education professionals, but I prefer to work with the populations in need.”

Experience & Skills

To be an effective Health Educator professionals you should have strong analytical skills and be able to assess data and evaluate program effectiveness. Analytical skills also help Health Educators to identify individual and community needs. They should also be able to solve problems independently, and to lead others through possessing strong communication skills. In this role, professionals not only communicate with clients, but with their families, students, coworkers and others as well. The ability to write well is another necessary communication skill. This skills facilitates the transfer of health-related information between healthcare practitioners.

“People don’t want to change, and the way we have been programmed and enabled to disregard our health in this country makes changing so much more difficult,” Villarreal said. “Real life experiences and knowing how to present those experiences to people who need to see the importance of a healthy change is a skill that only comes with practice. I’d recommend working with as many different types of people as possible, and openness to learning must be present at all times in order to grow as a Health Education professional.”

Personality

Health Educators should be leaders who are dependable and supportive. They should also be empathetic toward their clients with preexisting conditions, and remain up-to-date on all industry practices and information. Furthermore, Health Educators should be organized, highly-motivated and passionate for the field of health education.

“Health Educators should possess a genuine love for the topic and a motivating personality,” Villarreal said. “The feedback I hear most often is that participants enjoy how passionate I am about what I am teaching. The reason I am so passionate is because I truly believe in what I am teaching.”

She added that becoming an expert in human health behaviors can be very challenging and time-consuming. Additionally, Villarreal explained that in this career, cultural competency is key considering that Health Educators work with extremely diverse populations.

Lifestyle

The lifestyle of a Health Educator will largely depend on their work setting, but most spend some time in offices, in meetings or implementing programs. Occasionally, night and weekend hours may be required to attend specific meetings or programs.

“I work in the Healthcare field now, so I send flyers to insurance plan members, hold tables at health fairs or work with physicians to have patients referred to a class,” Villarreal said. “Health Educators are also involved in planning, and oftentimes you will be a guest in a facility where you need to bring all of your own materials. Ensuring that all program materials are prepared, knowing the material and utilizing the teaching space are also important.”

Villarreal added that after a class she typically collects required data, completes referrals, cleans her teaching space and properly sheds / files documents. She also follows up with any participants who requested additional information and reviews participant evaluations to plan for improvements to the next session.

Employment

Employment of Health Educators is on the rise! This career is projected to grow 16 percent over the next decade. This growth can largely be attributed to strengthened efforts to improve the health outcomes of all people. Thus, employers such as the government are hiring Health Educators to find ways to improve health outcomes, while reducing costs.The majority of Health Educators work in healthcare facilities, colleges, public health departments, nonprofits and private businesses. States with the highest level of employment within this career are California, New York, Florida, Georgia and Texas.

“This is a fledgling field so professional references are extremely important,” Villarreal explained. “Each line of expertise is different, so know the climate. I had to make a personal sacrifice to switch over to lifestyle medicine and ended up in the healthcare field.”

Earnings

As a Health Educator, the annual median career wage is currently $53,940. While the lowest 10 percent of earners are recorded to make less than $31,440, the highest 10 percent of employees earn more than $97,160 annually! Additionally, the highest paying employers of Health Educators are hospitals, the government, outpatient care centers, public services and individual and family services. Top paying states for this occupation are the District of Columbia, Maryland, Georgia, Rhode Island and Hawaii.

“If you are looking to make money, this is not the field for you,” Villarreal said. “This is a career for people who want to make a difference, just like being a teacher.”

Unions, Groups, Social Media, and Associations

The Society for Public Health (SOPHE) is a nonprofit association that represents a diverse membership of health education professionals and learners. Working in schools, universities, healthcare settings, government agencies and more, SOPHE raises awareness of the connection between behavioral sciences, health education, health promotion and the surrounding environment.

The American Public Health Association (APHA) is an organization designed to improve the health of the public and achieve equity in health status. The APHA hopes to help create the healthiest nation in one generation by reflecting beliefs of all members of all disciplines of public health.

Getting Started

  • Identify your area of interest and the population you want to work with
  • Find a program or professor that specializes in this population
  • Network professional relationships and take advantage of all opportunities
  • Obtain a Bachelor’s Degree
  • Become certified

All statistics are provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Health EducatorMeet the professional: Koreena Villarreal, MEd, CHES

Age: 31
Practice: John Hopkins HealthCare, LLC
Location: Maryland

 

What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?

“Walk the walk, don’t just talk the talk.”

What’s the number one mistake people make when trying to get into this career?

They avoid research. Research is a lot of work, and not always fun…at first. This is where I gained most of my professional references and skills. Also, nursing/medical school will not prepare you to teach. Education and research should be the focus of your academic portion of this journey.”

What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?

“Will I have opportunities to develop, implement and evaluate new programs? Will we have opportunities to present evidence of innovative health education practices to the professional community?”

Why did you choose to become a Health educator?

The community I grew up in was not health-conscious whatsoever, so everyone around me was overweight and dealing with unintended health consequences, except for my mother. She was always making time to be physically active after work and would take my sister and I along with her. She did not allow us to eat candy and drink soda, and fast food was an uncommon ‘treat.’ Learning more about my health as I got older and seeing how much more difficult breaking bad habits like sugar addiction, sedentary lifestyle and more were for people, made me realize how important modeling healthy behaviors can be. I wanted to do more to help these types of communities, so I found my place in education.”

If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would that be?

“Passion.”

*Credentialing organizations: National Commission for Health Education Credentialing, Inc.