What Is a Health Educator?

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Take a look at the role of a health educator and details on how to get health educator jobs. Get answers to, "What do health educators do?" and look at responsibilities and duties and typical employers.

[Feature Image]:  A Health Educator wearing a blue shirt is talking to members of the community about health wellness issues.

A health educator is a trained professional who works with groups in community settings or with individuals to help them understand how to live a healthy lifestyle. Part of the role is assessing the needs within a community and developing programs to meet those needs, and then educating that community on how to address unhealthy behaviors and lifestyle choices, such as smoking and excessive alcohol consumption. 

In this guide, you'll learn more about what a health educator does, the skills you need to be an effective health professional, where you might work, the education and training you'll need, and how to get started.

What do health educators do? Duties and responsibilities

The role of a health educator is varied and vast, involving working with both children and adults and being committed to instilling healthy habits into communities and individuals. As a health educator, your typical duties and responsibilities often include:

  • Assessing the needs of the community you serve

  • Helping people access relevant information relating to health concerns

  • Working with people to manage existing health conditions

  • Developing and facilitating workshops and programs to address the health needs of patients

  • Disseminating relevant information pertaining to health and wellness to those in the community 

  • Offering one-on-one support to those with the greatest needs

  • Consulting with education professionals, physicians, and medical centers 

  • Collecting and analyzing data on a particular community to inform future programs and services

The health concerns will vary depending upon the community a health educator represents. Some common areas of education include smoking cessation, excessive alcohol consumption, drugs, unhealthy eating, and supporting the community to exercise effectively.  

How to become a health educator

Becoming a health educator involves a high level of education and relevant experience, especially if you want to specialize in a particular area. The following are essential to qualify for a health educator job:

Education and training

To become a health educator, you will need to have a bachelor's degree as a minimum, ideally in public health, health education, health promotion, or a similar subject. Always pick classes and a major that prepares you for this route. 

Read more: A Guide to the Bachelor of Health Science Degree

Common issues relating to the health of communities, policies regarding public health, understanding the reasons (both social and behavioral) for poor health within communities, and health informatics will likely be included in the curriculum. All of these can help you learn how to research and analyze data. Additional typical courses you'll take include psychology and human development.  

Further education following a degree will be helpful and give you an advantage. A Master of Public Health will be valuable for qualifying for specific jobs or advancing your career. If you are looking to specialize in health education, a degree or major in a hyper-relevant subject such as physical education, teaching, or nutrition will benefit you. 

Read more: What Is a Master of Public Health (MPH) Degree?

Work experience

To work as a health educator, you need to have some relevant experience. Look for opportunities to shadow a health educator to gain experience in a public health setting, education, or community work, even in a voluntary capacity. Working in a school is an excellent experience, as is any role in a community setting. Building relationships and having good communication skills are critical, so experience working with people is essential. 

Any experience that demonstrates leadership is also a plus, along with sensitive roles to cultural diversity. 

Certification

Some employers will require a certification from the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing (NCHEC). This is a voluntary certification, but it is helpful toward giving you the edge for qualifying for jobs, even when not requested. You can also take an advanced certification called Master Certified Health Education (MCHES) when you have five years of working in the field.

To maintain certification, health educators need to commit to 75 hours of professional development every five years on top of their workload. 

What skills do you need to be successful as a health educator?

Health educators hone a variety of skills from interpersonal to organizational to technical. To land a health educator job, work on gaining and improving the following skills and qualities:

  • Communication (written and verbal)

  • Problem-solving

  • Critical thinking

  • Cultural and diversity awareness

  • Patience and empathy

  • Public speaking

  • Teaching 

  • Time management 

  • Organization and prioritization 

  • Computer skills (internet, database, and relevant software)

  • Leadership

  • Understanding cultural diversity

  • Ability to speak an additional language 

Work environment

A health educator’s work environment is as varied as the communities they represent. As the role involves assessing the community's needs in terms of health and well-being, the breadth of the role will depend on the community's needs.

Most health educators have an office as a base. Still, they spend a lot of time off-site within the community, meeting with relevant organizations and delivering workshops and programs in community venues. When in the office, you will collect and analyze data, as well as make contact with referrals, evaluate services, file reports, and devise programs and interventions. 

Time spent in the community will be spent meeting service users, delivering programs and making individual visits. Hours tend to be regular office hours, but occasionally work may be required during evenings and weekends in line with the community’s needs. 

Where do health educators work?

Health educators gain employment in various work settings, including hospitals, government agencies, corporations, colleges and universities, and private practices. The figures for typical  settings for health educator jobs according to the BLS [1] are as follows:

  • Government: 24%

  • Hospitals: 21%

  • Outpatient care centers: 7%

  • Individual and family services: 7%

  • Religious, grant-funded, civic, and professional organizations: 6%

Job outlook

The job outlook for this position is positive, with an expected growth rate of 17 percent between 2020 and 2030 [2], which is much faster than most occupations. The COVID-19 pandemic has further expedited the focus on health issues. As such, there is likely to be an increase in the need for these types of services. 

Career advancement is possible with experience and the proper education to more senior levels, such as a senior health educator or supervisor. It may also be possible to specialize or become self-employed, working at a consultant level. 

With some additional training, health educators have a good grounding to move into roles such as high school teachers, wellness specialists, and nutritionists.

Next steps

To begin your career as a health educator, enroll in a bachelor's program in public health or a related field. If you’ve already earned a bachelor's degree, you may want to increase your job prospects by enrolling in a Master of Public Health, such as from the University of Michigan on Coursera. If you're still deciding if this is the right career choice for you, consider taking the Health Behavior Change: From Evidence to Action online course from Yale to understand the social factors that contribute to health-related decisions and behaviors. 

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Master of Public Health

University of Michigan

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Article sources

1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Health Education Specialists and Community Health Workers, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/health-educators.htm#tab-3.” Accessed April 9, 2022. 

2. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Health Education Specialists and Community Health Workers, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/health-educators.htm#tab-6.” Accessed April 9, 2022.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

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