Health educators are professionals who instruct and encourage people to make healthier choices in their daily lives. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, their responsibilities include assessing patient health needs, developing programs to teach people about healthy living, creating educational materials, analyzing the effectiveness of programs, and advocating for health resources and policies (bls.gov/ooh, 2012).
However, responsibilities can differ greatly based on their place of employment. For example, health educators working in hospitals and other medical facilities generally teach patients about their diagnoses and any upcoming treatments or procedures they'll undergo. They may also set up health screenings and classes. Meanwhile, in a college setting, health educators may develop programs on alcohol abuse and stress management. In public health departments, health educators create public health campaigns on topics such as nutrition or communicable diseases, while in private companies, they find ways to improve overall employee health, such as establishing incentive programs to join a gym or stop smoking. Some health educators may even get their teaching license and teach classes at the middle and high school levels. Wherever they are employed, health educators typically work full time (bls.gov/ooh, 2012).
How to Become a Health Educator
Individuals interested in health educator careers generally need a bachelor's degree for entry-level positions, with some higher-level positions and organizations requiring a master's degree. The following steps can help individuals pursue health educator training, but do not guarantee employment:
- Earn a high school diploma or the equivalent, taking courses in areas like biology and other sciences.
- Complete a bachelor's degree program in health education or health promotion. Some positions, such as those in the federal government or state public health agencies, require a master's degree in community health education, school health education, public health education, health promotion or a similar subject.
- Pursue certification and become a Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES).
- Apply for local entry-level health educator jobs.
- Maintain CHES through continuing education.
Post-Education Requirements: Certifications and/or State Licensing
Some health educator jobs require the Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) credential according to the BLS. The CHES is awarded by the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing, Inc. This certification is awarded after a candidate passes a multiple-choice test and is appropriate for entry-level health educators who have obtained a bachelor's degree or are within 90 days of graduating. To maintain the certification, educators must complete 75 hours of continuing education every five years and pay a small annual renewal fee (bls.gov/ooh, 2012). The NCHEC also offers the Master Certified Health Education Specialist (MCHES) credential, for health educators who have five or more years of professional experience.
Health Educator Job Growth and Annual Salary
As businesses and insurance organizations continue their efforts to reduce healthcare costs, the BLS expects high demand for health educators, who can teach people about maintaining a healthy lifestyle to prevent costly medical procedures. Health educator jobs are projected to grow 37 percent nationally between 2010 and 2020, over double the average occupational growth rate in the U.S. The BLS notes that the median national annual wage of health educators was $48,790 in May 2012, with the highest 10 percent earning more than $86,810 and the lowest 10 percent earning less than $27,730. Salary can vary based on education, training and location (bls.gov/oes, 2013).
List of Related Careers
Health educators may wish to pursue related careers, which sometimes require additional experience, training and/or education. Potential career options include the following:
- Dieticians: Dieticians advise people on healthy eating habits and how to achieve a specific health-related goal. A bachelor's degree and state licensure is usually required.
- Mental Health Counselors: Mental health counselors help people manage mental and emotional disorders. They help clients understand their problems and develop plans to improve their lives. This profession typically requires a master's degree and a state license.
- Health Education Teachers: Teaches the subject of health at the middle or high school level. Requires at least a bachelor's degree. A teaching license is also required for public school teachers.
Links to Sources and Associations
The following websites can provide more information about health educator careers: