Americans are living longer, and many of them have chronic illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Linked primarily to unhealthy behaviors, these illnesses are a driving force behind the nation’s $3.5 trillion in annual healthcare costs. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 6 in 10 adults in the U.S. have a chronic disease, and 4 in 10 adults have at least two.
Because the U.S. healthcare system is inherently reactive and focused on treating illness and disease, a qualified community health educator serves a proactive role in improving health outcomes and reducing healthcare costs. For instance, people can prevent some chronic diseases by limiting risk factors, such as tobacco and alcohol use, poor nutrition, and lack of physical activity.
Health educators work to improve the well-being of people impacted by illness and disease. Their primary goal, however, is to educate and empower the public to lead healthy lives.
What Does a Community Health Educator Do?
Serving as health advocates, community health educators explain how healthy behaviors can prevent, reverse, or manage illness. They promote wellness through education, often facilitating classes and presenting information to diverse audiences.
Community health educators perform different duties, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), depending on where they work:
- Healthcare facilities. Health educators often work directly with patients and their families to teach them about their diagnoses and necessary treatments and procedures. They also organize health screenings and teach classes.
- Colleges and universities. Health educators advocate for policies that promote health and wellness among students, such as abstaining from tobacco and alcohol.
- Communities. Health educators collect and analyze data to assess health needs and advocate for their communities. They highlight important health topics by developing programs, materials, and events. They also can supervise staff and train community health workers.
- Public health departments. Health educators create campaigns and develop materials on topics such as aging, emergency preparedness, immunizations, proper nutrition, and stress management. They may also oversee grants and grant-funded programs.
- Nonprofits. Health educators focus on a specific audience or topic, such as increased vaping among youth. They create programs and materials, secure grant funding, and educate policymakers.
- Private businesses. Health educators serve as wellness coaches and work on ways to incentivize employees to lose weight or lower their cholesterol.
Steps to Become a Community Health Educator
If serving as a health advocate inspires you, education and training are key factors in putting you on the right path. Becoming a community health educator entails several essential steps.
Earn a Bachelor’s Degree
A bachelor’s degree in a relevant field, such as an online Bachelor of Science in Exercise Science, provides a firm foundation for a career in educating people, communities, and policymakers on the importance of a healthy lifestyle.
The path toward a career in this fulfilling field includes coursework in community health, nutrition, anatomy, kinesiology, and injury prevention. A concentration in wellness management — which focuses on evidence-based practice in nutrition, health program planning, and health-behavior change management — is designed to prepare students for a career as a community health educator.
Pursue an Advanced Education
Aspiring community health educators may choose to enter a master’s program to concentrate in a specific area of interest, such as public health. While holding an advanced degree is not always required to qualify for positions in this career path, it can lead to greater advancement and earnings opportunities.
Complete a Credentialing Program
Professional certifications for community health educators are often considered voluntary; however, some employers may require employees to have the Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) or Master Certified Health Education Specialist (MCHES) credential. These professional certifications can be indicators of industry expertise.
The CHES and MCHES credentials serve as national and international standards for health education professionals practicing at both entry and advanced levels. The CHES exam requires, at minimum, a bachelor’s degree for eligibility.
Gain Real-World Experience
Beyond coursework, community health educators need to gain a general understanding of current health events occurring worldwide. They typically complete a brief period of on-the-job training focused on communication and outreach, among other areas. Community health educators who work with specialized populations, such as Alzheimer’s patients, may receive additional training.
Aspiring community health educators also can benefit from volunteer work to develop communication and outreach skills, as well as analytical skills. According to a report from the Corporation for National and Community Service on PublicHealth.org, volunteers are 27% more likely to find a job than non-volunteers.
Fundamental Skills for Community Health Educators
Several foundational skills are necessary for success in a role as a community health educator:
- Analytical skills: Collecting and analyzing data to evaluate programs and determine the community’s needs
- Presentation skills: Becoming comfortable with public speaking to lead programs, teach classes, and facilitate discussions with clients and families
- Interpersonal skills: Interacting with people from a variety of backgrounds, listening well, maintaining cultural sensitivity, understanding nonverbal cues, and knowing how to persuade and negotiate
- Critical thinking skills: Thinking creatively about how to improve the community’s health through education programs and solving problems that arise when planning programs
- Communication skills: Developing written materials to convey health-related information and writing proposals to develop programs and apply for funding
- Computer skills: Possessing the skills and resourcefulness necessary to navigate the internet and a variety of software programs
- Organizational skills: Interpreting work plans, converting a community’s needs into comprehensive educational programs, and effectively coordinating time-sensitive activities
Community Health Educator Salary
The BLS reports the median annual wage for community health educators was $55,220 in May 2019. The top 10% of earners, who likely have additional experience and/or an advanced degree, earned more than $98,680. The top industry for health educators is hospitals (state, local, and private), with a median annual wage of $64,680.
Although salaries can vary based on multiple factors, an exercise science degree can lead to a wide range of careers with higher earning potential, such as a dietitian or nutritionist, which had a median annual wage of $61,270 in May 2019, and high school teacher, which had a median annual wage of $61,660.
Employment Outlook for Community Health Educators
The BLS projects the employment of community health educators to increase by 11% between 2018 and 2028, much faster growth than the average for all occupations. Professionals who have completed a credentialing program, such as the CHES or MCHES, will likely have improved job prospects. Additionally, community health educators who speak a foreign language and understand the culture of the community they intend to serve may have more opportunities.
Your Path Toward a Career as a Community Health Educator Starts at Maryville
Whether you want to work as a community health educator for a hospital, university, nonprofit, public health department, or private business, Maryville University’s online Bachelor of Science in Exercise Science can prepare you to make a difference in people’s lives and inspire them to make impactful changes in their health. Discover how this program can help you develop the skills you need to succeed in this career as a professional health advocate.
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