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Summer 2007 Vol. 51, Number 2

Health educators working for wellness
Colleen Teixeira


As the saying goes, "If you’ve got your health, you’ve got everything." Health educators have made this instructional adage a professional mantra.

Health educators promote wellness and healthy lifestyles. Covering a wide range of topics, these workers teach individuals and communities about behaviors that encourage healthy living and prevent diseases and other problems. The subjects they cover, and the methods they use, depend on where they work and whom they instruct.

This article describes the work of health educators. It explains what they do, including how population and place affect their job tasks. It also provides information about their employment, earnings, job prospects, and training requirements. Suggestions for locating additional resources are at the end of the article.

Promoting healthy lifestyles

The specific duties of health educators vary by work setting. But whether they work in a hospital, school, business, or other setting, all health educators use similar skills and tools. In general, health educators begin by assessing their audience and planning a program that suits its needs. Then, they implement the program and evaluate its success.

Assessment. Health educators must determine which topics and information are most pertinent to each group. For women at risk for breast cancer, for example, a health educator might consider a program on self-exams; for college students, he or she might decide to teach a class on the hazards of binge drinking..

In determining the needs of the audience, health educators must also assess appropriate methods for presenting the material. For example, a program targeting the elderly would involve different pacing and cultural references than one aimed at high schoolers.

Planning. After assessing audience needs, health educators must decide how to meet those needs. They have a lot of options. They can organize a lecture, demonstration, or health screening or create a video, brochure, or display. Often, health educators create a program that combines several of these elements.

Planning usually requires collaboration with other professionals. To prepare a program on childhood obesity, for example, a health educator might need to consult with pediatricians, exercise physiologists, and nutritionists.

Implementation. Implementing a plan may first require that health educators secure funding by seeking out and applying for grants, writing a curriculum for a class, or creating written materials for distributing to the public. It might also require that they complete some administrative tasks, such as finding a speaker to present the topic or a venue for the event to be held.

During the program, health educators’ roles vary. They might present the topic themselves or serve primarily on the sidelines, introducing the speaker or encouraging audience participation. The next section, "People and places," describes in more detail how health educators’ instructional tasks differ, based on where they work and the populations they serve.

Evaluation. Usually, after a program is presented, health educators evaluate its success. They focus on evidence-based methods of evaluation, such as tracking the absentee rate of employees or students or creating and using participant surveys. Through evaluation, they can improve the plans for future programs by avoiding problems, learning from mistakes, and capitalizing on strengths.



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Last Updated: February 15, 2007