Health Education

Health Education—Taking a closer look into this high-demand field

Health education is a very rewarding field that is a lot more challenging than most realize. According to Janelle Wright, Assistant Professor of Nursing at a private university in Illinois, "[health education] involves more than just informing someone of health related facts and skills...it involves having very strong communication skills and is more of a collaborative or coaching process as we help people make decisions for themselves about any changes they wish to adopt in their lives." Wright continues by saying that the field of health education involves maintaining strong relationship-centered skills and bridging cultural differences.  It also involves honoring another person's worldview and maintaining her or his dignity.  All of these skills are in addition to being resourceful and knowledgeable about new developments in healthcare. Learn more about health education salary. Let's start with some of the common questions people may have regarding this field.

What different settings can a health educator work in?

There's such a wide spectrum of educational opportunities in health care. Some of these areas may include university or college instructor/professor, researcher, clinical educator, patient educator, and public health educator. Let's explore each of these setting

  • Universities or College Instructor:  Instructors or professors at universities and colleges lay out the foundation of their specific healthcare specialty to provide students with the nuts and bolts of skills and knowledge they need in their respective field.
  • Researcher:  Oftentimes professors at universities also serve the dual role of being a researcher, though there are individuals who only conduct research without the teaching aspect. Research universities hire professionals to perform research to advance the field.
  • Clinical Educator:These professionals work in their respective field and serve as a mentor or trainer for students working on clinical rotations to gain hands-one experience.
  • Patient Educator: This title could run the gamut of professionals it applies to from diabetes educator to any health care professional who is explaining a procedure to a patient.
  • Public Health: These professionals can be involved in any type of education that promotes healthy lifestyles and prevents injury and disease for communities as a whole.

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What daily tasks does this career entail?

In the university setting, there are a number of different aspects to the job. Some of these include administrative aspects such as advising students, design and implementation of lectures, labs and hands-on instruction, grading papers and exams, and assessment. Assessment involves much more than just grading exams. Healthcare involves ensuring students can display proficiencies in certain tasks through clinical demonstration before they're able to move on. Designing new courses is another task some health educators have. Also, most health programs have to be accredited and securing accreditation or reaccreditation is a huge task with many components. Some educators review and write textbooks and other educational materials.

For professors employed at research universities, grant writing is a major part of their job. Research entails funding for lab time and materials. Organizations have money set aside for studies on specific topics that are pertinent to their field.  Professors involved in research write grant proposals to obtain the necessary money to conduct their research. They are competing against other professors submitting proposals to gain the grant money. Oftentimes professors who research are also educators in their given field. For these individuals part of their job entails guiding and coaching students through research studies and grant writing. 

What is the average salary of a health educator?

The salary for health educators can vary greatly depending on the type of employment setting, region of the country, years of experience, tenure and rank, and the availability of the skilled individual. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the mean annual wage for health educators nationwide was $55,260 as of May 2014. This is somewhat higher than the $47,230 mean wages earned for all occupations combined in the U.S., according to May 2014 BLS data. However, wages did vary for the job. Those with a median income in the lowest 10 percent earned $29,650 or less while those with median wages in the highest 10 percent earned $90,260 or more, shows BLS data.

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What are the rewards of a job in this field?

For college or university instructors, influencing young individuals entering the field and sharing your joy of the profession may be a reward. Also, those who are interested in health and improving day-to-day living may want to share their knowledge and insight with others, helping them to create healthier, more active lives.

Is this profession in high demand?

The BLS reports that job demand for health educators is expected to grow by 19 percent from 2012 to 2022. This job growth is faster than average and could result in 11,200 new jobs becoming available during this time. A factor in this demand is that education can be used to reduce health care costs by teaching people about better habits and behaviors, as well as available health care services, with the hope of improving health care outcomes. Education also can be imperative in prevention or early identification of serious conditions, including lung cancer, HIV and heart disease, according to the BLS. Health educators can also teach people already diagnosed with an illness, such as asthma, about managing their condition to prevent unnecessary trips for urgent or emergency care.

Preventative screenings will also be available more frequently due to a change in federal law expanding health care coverage and services for people. Health educators will be imperative in providing information about the availability of these preventative services, any of which could be beneficial in identifying or helping to prevent disease at an early stage.

Is there room for advancement?

According to the BLS, job opportunities could be the best for those who speak a foreign language. That is because communication is imperative, particularly if a person is a non-native English speaker and does not understand the available types of health services. Other health educators could have a job advantage simply by completing a college degree and working with a specific population, disability or medical condition, reports the BLS. A bachelor's degree in health education or health promotion is typically needed to enter the field.

Another available route to begin a career in health education is to obtain certification. The Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) certification is offered through the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing, Inc., and is awarded after the applicant has passed an exam. Every five years, 75 hours of continuing education is needed to maintain this credential, according to the BLS.

Those wanting to work for the federal government or even in public health often need to have a master's degree or sometimes doctoral education, reports the BLS. However, a variety of educational programs can be found at the graduate level, including in community health education, health promotion and public health education. At this level, professionals may want to pursue the Master Certified Health Education Specialist (MCHES) credential available through the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing, Inc.

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With the costs of health care rising and the demand for medical services remaining steady, the medical community is aggressively advocating for a more sustained focus on illness prevention; and this is where health educators are having the largest impact.

Professionals interested in the Master of Public Health-Health Education degree will be at the forefront of educating patients on how to structure their lifestyles so as to achieve optimal health, particularly for those living with chronic conditions like diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

According to the American Diabetes Association, about 7.8% of the total population, roughly 23.6 million Americans, are currently living with diabetes. Yet, the ADA estimates that nearly 1.6 million cases of diabetes are diagnosed each year. The Centers for Disease Control have also identified the fact that about 34% of all Americans are overweight. Astoundingly, 18% adolescents are considered obese as well.

Because of these and other health issues, the public health community has placed a greater sense of urgency on educating the public about the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, which is leading to a more substantial need for qualified health educators.

Is the field of health education in high demand?

The availability of jobs in this field can vary greatly depending on factors such as location, employment setting (university, hospital, or other), and what specific field of health education you specialize in. However, the general trend seems to be a need for health related professionals continuing to increase, and the need for health related educators following suite. These individuals typically start out working in the health care field and eventually evolve to a career in health education where they're able to share their experiences to help others become competent health care providers. For instance, a nurse may work in the field of nursing for a certain length of time and then decide she wants to make the switch to teaching nursing at the local college.

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However, if the health educator plays more of a research role at a university, they are able to earn quite lofty salaries. Their pay is contingent on the number of grants they are able to secure since those monies fund the research. For instance, an individual who

What are the hours like as a health educator?

The hours, like with most fields, can vary greatly in health education. Some health educators work a full time day job in a health care field and then teach health classes part time in the evenings. Other professionals make a career out of health education and teach at a college or university full time. If your goal is to make a career out of health education, the first few years of teaching are typically the most strenuous since you're developing lectures and materials for the first time.

One of the benefits of a job in health education is that the work hours are typically self-directed and can be chosen by the health educator. For instance, if they are teaching classes at a college or university they can request which days or times they'd prefer to teach. Another benefit to hours is that many professionals in this field get summers off and long breaks around holiday time since the students are not in session during those periods. However, instructors of course have to take tests and papers home to grade, which can cut into their personal life at times. If you're a clinical educator this may be different because you are likely scheduled to a shift.

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What traits should someone possess who wants to pursue this field?

To excel in health education, first and foremost you must be an excellent communicator, both in speech and writing. You also must possess an analytical mindset because healthcare is so dynamic. This involves being able to look at research and critically evaluate it. Organization skills are a must-have as well as being able to see the bigger picture while still focusing in on the finer points. This is an especially crucial trait to have as a clinical educator.

According to Hayden, there are two different approaches to teaching a student a certain task; showing them how to do it or helping them develop the thought process that will get them there. In healthcare, helping students have the thought process to get to a result is more beneficial than showing them the skill. Otherwise students may memorize how their instructor does a certain exercise and not understand why they're doing it. "After I've done two or three shoulder rehabs a year my students will start mimicking the exercises but if you stop and ask them why you're doing this kind of exercises they may not know," said Hayden. "You want to avoid a cook-book approach to treatments.? Each patient is different; therefore, their treatment should be individualized. If a student can develop the thought processes to develop their own treatment plans then they have truly been educated."

Being able to relate to your students is also essential. Empathizing and having the ability to motivate students who each have different personalities and backgrounds is key. Students have lives and life challenges outside the classroom and it is most important that they are learning the material, even if each student learns in their own unique way. According to Connie Weber, professor of athletic training at a health care specific graduate school in Arizona, "When a student fails an exam in one of my classes, I was not so concerned that they failed the exam, but why they failed it, what could have been done for them not to fail it, and then I would ask them if they felt like they gained knowledge, but just were not able to show that knowledge on the exam."

Does working in health care fields prior to transitioning to health education enhance that role?

The majority of health educators worked in a health related field prior to moving to a teaching role. Having a strong foundation in their given field prior to teaching is essential. This experience helps the health educator use concrete scenarios and illustrations when providing examples to their students.

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Healthcare is also a unique field in that all professionals truly educate their patients on a regular basis. While doing any type of treatment on a patient, a good healthcare provider explains a patient's condition, their treatment options, how to prevent illness or disease and how to improve their general health. Healthcare education is also unique in that proper training involves more than just sitting in a classroom. Clinical settings are available, and many times required, for hands on learning. This means health educators comprise not just the instructors who lecture at the college setting, but clinicians in the field who are helping students and interns with clinical rotations. For example, an athletic training student must have a certain number of hours practicing in the field before they are able to sit for their certification exam. They may be assigned a local athletic team to work with or a physical sports medicine clinic where they learn from skilled professionals in the field. These professionals are also health educators in that they're teaching and training others the necessary skills for the given profession. Many healthcare professionals serve as clinical educators prior to transitioning into the academic side of the field.

Some health educators continue to work in the health care field and teach part or full time. The balance between working in the field and teaching it can complement each other nicely.

How much schooling is needed to pursue the field of health education?

The amount of schooling needed for health education professionals truly depends on the job they are pursuing. However, most health education professionals have at least a master's degree in the field they wish to teach. Some health education professionals have a PhD in their field, which can make these individuals more competitive for job advancement, and allow them to earn a higher salary. Some instructors in this field have more of a specialized training that does not entail a master's or even a bachelor's degree. For instance, certified EMT-Paramedic professionals who have worked in the field for a number of years may choose to teach paramedic classes. While these professionals do not have a bachelor's degree, they have a very specific degree and experience that provides the necessary skills to teach others.

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What specific schooling is necessary for this field?

How long does it take to earn a degree in health education?

Master's degrees can take anywhere between 18 months and 3 years. The typical master's degree program lasts two years but there are accelerated programs available. Online and traditional universities offer master's degrees. ?PhD programs can last 3-4 years.

What is the coursework like for a health education program?

Programs specific to health education and many advanced master's programs in fields of healthcare will include classes about course development, formulation of course objectives, course outcomes, learning assessment, instructional systems design, and statistics. Instructional systems design classes teach students how to write a syllabus and design coursework. Statistics classes teach students how to read and interpret research and data.? As health care evolves and embraces evidence based medical practices, providers must be able to evaluate research to determine the most effective treatment methods. Current trends in education also have forced many programs to develop coursework to prepare students to use educational technology such as PowerPoint, Blackboard and web development.

Steps to become a health educator

There are a number of different steps one can take to a health education careerdepending on the specific employment setting they are seeking. The following are steps based on a career as a health educator at a college or university:

  1. The most important thing in moving to a career in health education is obtaining an appropriate entry-level degree in your specific area.
  2. Earn an advanced degree (master's or master's and then doctorate).
  3. Take the appropriate board exams to become certified and licensed in your respective area of expertise.
  4. Work in your area of expertise for a number of years prior to moving to health education. It is so important for health educators to be able to give their students examples based on their experience working in their given field.
  5. While working in your given field, keep your hands in some aspect of teaching in the profession no matter how small it may seem. For example, you could be involved in guest lecturing for a class.

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Another new trend in health care education involves health literacy and patient self-managed support. With decreases in insurance coverage and higher co-payments for health service occurring frequently, healthcare providers are teaching patients to assume

Why is health education "the" field to pursue?

It is important to realize that there's a demonstrated and viable need for healthcare practitioners and professionals. Because baby boomers are starting to retire, there's a huge void in the healthcare field creating a tremendous need for doctors, nurses, and many other healthcare professionals. Health education schools are ramping up to educate more individuals.

Besides just educating healthcare practitioners, it's recognized that also educating patients on preventative medicine and early detection is very important. ?Educating the general public is the first step towards prevention. For example, 15 years ago there was not nearly as much discussion with students in schools about how to stay in shape and make healthy eating choices. Today, resources are being poured into helping people live healthier lives and preventing illness. There is a need for educators in these roles.

What are current "hot topics" in this field?

One of the major hot topics in health education is evidence-based practice. For so long the medicine and healthcare fields have adopted the mantra: "We continue to do things this way because that's how we've always done it." Evidence based practice involves targeted research to direct the health educator's practice. For example, if the healthcare practitioner wants to use a specific treatment for a certain condition they should be able to find studies to show that method is effective. "There has been a great shift to remove the 'home remedy' approach out of health care and instead use solid, well designed empirical research that establishes what is and is not effective," according to Tom Hayden.

Why is it a good time to consider enrolling in health education schools?

Today, information is universally accessible to every person, and it is interesting to note that topics related to personal health are among the most commonly searched terms on the Internet. People have become more aware of issues concerning their own health, and are more interested in being proactive with regard to taking care of their physical, psychological, and emotional well being.

People have all recognized that taking preventative steps to avoid serious health problems is the best way to maintain good health,

What degree options are available through health education schools?

The standard for those beginning careers as health educators is to earn a bachelor's degree in health education. In four years, students of these programs can expect to graduate with a highly respected degree that will help them to secure work in this high-demand field.

Health education degreesare also available at the master's level, and it is not uncommon for graduates of bachelor's programs to pursue postgraduate study in an effort to expand their field of expertise while creating opportunities for career advancement. After just two years of postgraduate study, practicing health educators can earn an extremely prestigious master's degree. Health educators who go on to pursue postgraduate study will earn either a Master of Arts, a Master of Science, Master of Education, or Master of Public Health degree.

What classes can be expected from health education programs?

Students of health education schools can expect a robust series of classes related to all manner of individual and public health concerns as well as the related preventative methods. Standard classes would include developmental psychology, risk identification, as well as personal and public health promotion.

It is not enough to be very knowledgeable of all things health related. In addition to being a living resource of health related information, health educators also must have the skills necessary to engage members of every imaginable demographic and disseminate information to them in a way that is interesting and relevant to these different audiences. Because of this, aspiring health educators should expect classes in public speaking, as well as curriculum and program development.


  1. Health Educators, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2014. http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211091.htm
  2. Health Educators and Community Health Workers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Jan. 8, 2014. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/health-educators.htm
  3. May 2014 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates United States, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics. http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm#00-0000

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