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Summer 2007 Vol. 51, Number 2

Health educators working for wellness
by
Colleen Teixeira


 

Becoming a health educator

Preparing for a career in health education requires creative and interpersonal skills, academic preparation, and, for some positions, professional credentials. Advancement in the occupation may require all of the above.

Skills. Health educators are often required to create new programs or materials and, therefore, should be creative and adept writers. They spend much of their time working with people, so they must be both good listeners and good speakers. In particular, they should be comfortable speaking publicly because they may teach classes or give presentations.

Health educators also must be able to work with both individuals and large groups, including committees. Because health educators often work with diverse populations, they must be culturally sensitive and open to working with people of varied backgrounds.

Education. A bachelorís degree is generally the minimum requirement for an entry-level health educator position. However, some employers may prefer to hire people who have a bachelorís degree plus related experience from an internship or volunteer work. A masterís degree in health education or a related field is usually required for higher level positions or to work in public health. More than 250 colleges and universities offer undergraduate and graduate programs in health education or a similarly titled area of study.

Courses in health education generally cover the theories of health education and help students develop the skills necessary to plan, implement, and evaluate health education programs. Health education students should also consider courses in psychology, human development, and a foreign language to make themselves more marketable. Many schools also offer information and assistance to students who are interested in an internship or volunteer opportunities.

At the graduate-degree level, students may pursue a master of arts, science, education, or public health. Relevant fields of study include community health education, school health education, and health promotion. Many students who have studied or worked in a related field, such as nursing or psychology, later earn their masterís degree in health education.

Credentials. Some States require health educators who work in public health to be certified health education specialists, and many employers outside of public health also prefer to hire those who are certified.

The Certified Health Education Specialists designation is offered by the National Commission of Health Education Credentialing. Certification is awarded to those who pass a test covering the basics of health education. The exam is designed for entry-level educators who have earned a degree in health education or who are within 3 months of graduating.

To maintain certification, health educators must complete 75 hours of continuing education every 5 years.

Advancement. Higher level health education positions, which usually require an advanced degree, include executive director, supervisor, and senior health educator. People working in these positions may spend more time on planning and evaluating programs than on their implementation.

Higher level positions may also require supervising other health educators who implement the programs. Health educators at this level may also work with other administrators within an organization.

Some health educators pursue a doctoral degree in health education, which allows them to conduct research or to become professors of health education.

For more information

Many health educators say their jobs are rewarding. They appreciate the variation in their day-to-day activities: One day might be spent teaching a class on the risks of doing drugs, followed the next day by meetings with community organizers of events for American Heart Month. Health educators often enjoy working on different projects with diverse groups of people.

If this occupation interests you, learn more about it by continuing your research. Begin by visiting a career counselor or your local library, where youíll find information about the industries in which health educators work.

Among the resources in many career counselor offices and libraries are the Occupational Outlook Handbook and Career Guide to Industries, which provide details about the working conditions, employment, earnings and more for hundreds of occupations and dozens of industries. You can also find these publications online: the Handbook at www.bls.gov/oco and the Career Guide at www.bls.gov/oco/cg.

Associations are also a good source of career information. For general information about health educators, contact:

American Association for Health Education
1900 Association Dr.
Reston, VA 20191
Toll-free: 1 (800) 213-7193
(703) 476-3400
www.aahperd.org/aahe

Society for Public Health Education
750 First St. NE., Suite 910
Washington, DC 20002
(202) 408-9804
www.sophe.org

For information about voluntary credentialing and job opportunities, contact:

National Commission for Health Education
Credentialing, Inc.
1541 Alta Dr., Suite 303
Whitehall, PA 18052
Toll-Free: 1 (888) 624-3248
(484) 223-0770
www.nchec.org

 

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Last Updated: February 15, 2007