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Summer 2007 Vol. 51, Number 2

Health educators working for wellness
Colleen Teixeira


People and places

Health educators generally work in healthcare facilities, schools, private businesses, public health departments, and nonprofit organizations. Where they work determines their job duties and the types of people they serve.

Healthcare. In hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare settings, health educators often work one-on-one with patients and their families. These health educators might fully explain a patientís diagnosis and any tests, surgeries, or other procedures that may be required. They might also teach the patient about lifestyle changes that are necessary to manage the disease or to assist with recovery. They might, for example, show a patient with diabetes how to test blood sugar and take insulin. At times, these health educators locate services, such as in-home healthcare or support groups, that will assist the patient in managing an illness.

In addition to working with patients, health educators in healthcare facilities might develop educational programs for the community. Topics could include instruction in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), first aid, proper nutrition, or self-examination for disease. Planning these programs often requires collaboration with doctors, nurses, and other staff.

Health educators might also develop educational materials for other departments within a healthcare facility. This may require participating on a committee to develop resources for patient education, such as brochures, Web sites, or classes, or working with individual departments to ensure that health education materials exist for each medical specialty. In some cases, health educators might also be asked to provide training in patient interaction to other hospital staff.

Schools. School-based health educators work primarily with students. In colleges and universities, they generally cover topics that affect young adults, such as smoking, nutrition, and sexual activity. Health educators might need to alter their teaching methods to attract audiences to their events. For example, they might show popular movies and then discuss the health issues addressed, or they might hold workshops in a dorm or cafeteria. Health educators may also recruit and train students to serve as peer educators and advise the students in planning events. Some college-based health educators also teach health courses for academic credit or run workshops, give lectures, or provide demonstrations for new-student orientation programs.

Compared with health educators in other settings, those working in junior high and high schools typically spend more time in a classroom than in an office. This is because health educators at this level often teach health class. They develop lesson plans for teaching topics that are relevant and age appropriate for their students. At times, they may need to cover sensitive subjects, such as prevention of pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and drug and alcohol abuse.

Private business. Health educators based in private businesses create programs for educating a firmís employees as a whole, organizing programs that fit the workersí schedules. Schedule-sensitive programs might include arranging lunchtime speakers or daylong health screenings so workers may come when it is convenient for them.

Health educators in corporate settings must align their work with the overall goals of their employer. For example, a health educator working for a medical supply company may hold programs relating to the companyís newest products on the market.

Public health. Health educators in public health are employed primarily by State and local departments of public health and are, therefore, often responsible for administering State-mandated programs. As part of this work, they inform other professionals about changes to health policy.

Health educators in public health work closely with nonprofit organizations to help them get the resources they need, such as grants, to continue serving the community. Also, these health educators often sit on statewide councils or national committees, including those that study issues related to aging.

Nonprofit organizations. Many health educators work in nonprofit organizations that educate about a particular disease or target a specific population. Therefore, health educators in this setting are usually limited in the topics they cover or the people they serve.

Work in a nonprofit organization might include creating print-based material for distributing throughout the community, often in conjunction with organizing lectures, health screenings, and activities related to increasing awareness. Health educators work with other nonprofit organizations or with individuals within the communities they are trying to serve.



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Last Updated: February 15, 2007