Within the public health field, experts and medical professionals frequently collaborate to promote health initiatives and education programs in a given community. Science-based public health programs improve the quality of life and protect the most vulnerable within a population, the American Public Health Association notes.
Oftentimes, it is health educators who bring public health programs to life. This boots-on-the-ground position allows an individual to embed themselves in the community and launch programming that empowers community members to enjoy a safe, healthy and productive lifestyle.
What Is a Health Educator?
Health educators are experienced professionals who specialize in the field of public health and work with a specific population to provide them with information about healthy living. According to Coursera, health educators collect and analyze data to better understand the needs of the community they serve and rely on that data to create actionable solutions to address its health challenges.
In addition to equipping the public with information about what to avoid, health educators must also encourage positive habits and productive, healthy lifestyles. Information cannot always be restrictive, and it should be interesting, engaging and empowering.
What Does a Health Educator Do?
Health educators perform a variety of duties, and no two days in this career are alike. Some of the most common job responsibilities of health educators include:
- Assessment of community health needs – Health educators must understand the unique needs of their community to deliver personalized programming. They may assess community needs through data harvesting, surveys and community outreach events.
- Program planning and development – These professionals are responsible for developing health education programs that are relevant, informative and interesting. Programming should be distinctly designed to meet the needs of the individual community that health educators serve.
- Community outreach – Health educators play a forward-facing role in their communities and should plan community outreach events that allow residents to become aware of the programming and services they offer.
- Individual and group education – Health educators should work to create both individual and group education initiatives that provide community members with information about risky habits, healthy lifestyles and general well-being.
Qualities of an Effective Health Educator
Along with an in-depth, expert-level understanding of healthcare, public policy and community initiatives, health educators should hone a number of soft skills to be truly effective. According to Indeed, these qualities would make a successful health educator:
- Interpersonal skills – Health educators must be able to listen and connect with the population they serve. As a health educator, you should focus on developing active listening skills and strive to be an empathetic, understanding and culturally aware professional.
- Problem-solving skills – The field of health education presents surprisingly complex issues. You must be able to think creatively and develop solutions that will best suit a given population.
- Communication skills – Effective communication is essential to the health education industry, as you need to provide the public with information about public health initiatives, available programming and resources. Creating content and materials that present information in a clear and relatable way is critical to your success as a health educator.
- Time management and organizational skills – You will be balancing many tasks simultaneously, so it is crucial to prioritize and manage your time effectively. By collecting data and keeping a pulse on the community, you can better determine what programming needs to be available now and what could be developed over the long term.
How to Become a Health Educator
There are several educational and professional requirements in place for those wanting to pursue a position as a health education specialist. Knowing how to become a health educator could help you streamline your path forward and secure a public health position as soon as possible.
Most professional positions in health promotion or health education require candidates to have a bachelor’s degree. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), earning a bachelor’s degree in health sciences or health education is ideal, but many public health employers are willing to consider applicants who earned an undergraduate degree in a different field, such as business or the social sciences.
In addition to earning a bachelor’s degree in a related field, you may have to accrue relevant professional experience in the industry. Some opportunities that could help you gain the necessary experience to secure an entry-level job in public health promotion include:
- Internships at non-profit organizations or community health departments.
- Volunteer work with community organizations.
- Job opportunities at local schools, allowing you to develop expertise in the best educational practices.
In many cases, you can gain the experience required to work in the field while you pursue your undergraduate degree. These opportunities offer a chance to learn more about what it takes to work in the health education realm and discover areas where you may want to specialize.
Specialization and Certification
Depending on the type of position you eventually seek, you may need to earn a certification or complete a specialization course. Though not required, many health educators find that obtaining the Certified Health Education Specialist credential gives them a competitive advantage in the field. According to the BLS, this certification program is available through the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing.
Areas where you may be able to specialize include:
- Health counseling
- Nutritional counseling
- Health programming development
- Substance abuse prevention and treatment
- Global health education
- Mental health education
- Community health issues
Master’s Degree (Optional)
For most entry-level positions in health education and health promotion, a master’s degree is not required. However, investing in your education and earning a master’s degree could help you achieve higher-level positions in the industry, plus possibly increase your earning potential over time. A master’s degree could also open up an opportunity to specialize. For example, if you earn a master’s degree in nutrition, you would be more qualified for nutritional coaching and counseling positions.
Rewards Associated With Being a Health Educator
Most who pursue a career in health education are passionate about empowering people to live healthy and productive lives; therefore, they find their careers incredibly rewarding. There are both personal and professional benefits associated with this dynamic field:
Job Satisfaction and Impact
Given the wide range of career opportunities within health education, health educators are often able to personalize their career paths and choose positions that allow them to explore their interests and passions. As a result, many health educators feel both personally and professionally fulfilled by their careers. The opportunity to have a significant impact on the communities they serve can lead to higher job satisfaction ratings.
Career Growth and Opportunities
According to Career Explorer, there exist many job opportunities for those in the field of health education and health promotion. Some common roles include:
- Community health educator – By working with a particular population and identifying its needs, community health educators can develop health education programming that empowers the community and allows them to access resources to live healthy lives.
- School health educator – Working specifically within school populations, school health educators create initiatives about disease prevention, nutritional health and healthy habits for students.
- Clinical health educator – Clinical health educators work in medical settings like hospitals or doctor’s offices. They provide the patient population with educational programming and materials to improve their overall health.
- Maternal and child health educator – Specifically serving mothers and their children, maternal and child health educators may offer information about safe feeding practices, safe sleeping habits, developmental milestones in children and other related topics.
- Nutritional counselor – Nutritional counselors provide individuals and communities with information about healthy eating habits and the importance of a well-balanced diet.
- Mental health educator – Focusing solely on behavioral health and well-being, mental health educators work to raise awareness about the signs and symptoms of mental health conditions and efforts to reduce and address them in a given population.
Considerations for Becoming a Health Educator
Before beginning a degree program or applying for internships within the field of health education, consider the following factors:
Work Environment Expectations
Health educators do not spend all their time in office environments. In fact, health educators can generally be found out and about in the community, as they are focused on outreach initiatives.
Many health educators find themselves working in the following environments:
- Office settings – Collecting and analyzing data as well as developing programming typically occurs in an office environment, but most health educators do not spend all their time in the office.
- Clinical settings – Some health educators work in clinical settings, where they educate and advocate for the patient population.
- School settings – Health educators serving school populations usually work in a school building, where they can connect with the students for whom they are developing programming.
Most health educators find that they must work outside traditional business hours, with certain positions requiring shifts during nights and weekends. This is often because health educators coordinate events and meetings that occur at times when most people in the community can attend.
Average Salary Considerations
According to the BLS, the median annual salary for health educators is about $60,000. However, the exact salary for a position may vary widely based on its location and the type of employer. For instance, a private corporation may pay a health educator more than a public health organization or government agency.
Health Education in Schools
Health education continues to play a vital role in schools today. According to the Centers for Disease Control, health education serves the following purposes:
- Connecting students with the health services they need.
- Providing students with age-appropriate information about health and well-being.
- Improving health education across all age levels.
- Making schools a safe and secure space for all students.
To be effective among the student population, health education programming should be creative and compelling. Health educators should work to become integrated into the school community in order to best understand the students and connect with them in a way that is relatable.
Utilizing Technology and Innovative Approaches
Health educators working primarily with students will quickly realize that technology plays a critical part in their programming. Young people are well-versed with digital devices, and they are going to be more interested in information that is presented engagingly. Using innovative approaches—such as digital gaming or app-based health education initiatives—can help provide valuable information to students in a fun, exciting manner. These creative solutions can be a wise way to make lasting impressions on the young learners of today.
Begin Your Career in Health Education at Johnson & Wales University
Your career in public health begins at Johnson & Wales University, where we offer an online Master of Science in Nutrition. This graduate degree program allows you to master the art (and science) of collecting and analyzing scientific evidence to address the complex nutritional challenges facing communities today. We also offer a Bachelor of Science – Public Health degree as well.