Becoming a Health Educator

What is health education?

Health education is an area of academic study that fosters the acquisition of skills and competencies to assist "individuals, acting separately and collectively, to make informed decisions on matters affecting individual, family, and community health." - The Role Delineation Process

What do health educators do?

Health educators encourage individuals to take more responsibility for learning about the behaviors that keep them healthy or that help them acquire an improved health status. Health educators facilitate voluntary adaptations of behavior conducive to health.

  • Assess needs for health education programs.
  • Plan effective health education programs.
  • Implement health education programs.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of health education programs.
  • Coordinate the provision of health education services.
  • Act as a resource person for health education programs.
  • Communicate health education needs, concerns, and resources.*

*National Commission for Health Education Credentialing (NCHEC)

What can I expect from the health science/health education major?

The curriculum in health science/health education is competency-based; in other words, majors not only build a foundation in the theory of health education, but also develop skills to implement health education programs in the community. Examples of class projects include the Honey Run Run, elementary school health academies, high school health screenings, campus blood drives, health fairs at Chico Expo, environmental health teaching vignettes, and many other community health promotion projects. Majors learn to work in collaborative groups as well as to facilitate learning groups using various audio-visuals and learning activities. An internship experience is required. Students graduate with a portfolio of their projects to show future employers during interviews.

Several other helpful materials regarding the health education major are available outside the Department Office, 607 Butte Hall. In addition, much information is contained on the Department's home WEB page (http://www.csuchico.edu/hcsv). Course requirements in the major also can be found in the catalog and in the recruitment brochure Health Education. Talking with the health education advisor early in your planning is crucial.

What are the four primary employment settings for health educators?

Worksite: Plan and implement programs to keep employees healthy and to maintain safe work environments. Examples of worksite settings include large corporations, providers for organized groups of smaller industries, and other business and industrial firms.

Schools: Design curricula and teach health education in the public and private schools. A subject matter teaching credential from the state’s Department of Education is required.

Medical Services: Develop and implement preventive and rehabilitative health education programs in hospitals, H.M.O.s, acute care clinics, and long term care facilities. Examples include consumer workshops on the use of medical services, pre-natal and childbirth classes, cardiac rehabilitation and life-adjustment groups, and screening for health conditions.

Communities: Assess need for health education programs at various sites in the community. Examples include voluntary health agencies and government-based service programs such as the American Heart Association, American Lung Association, Planned Parenthood, adult day care centers, AIDS/HIV programs, American Red Cross, County Health Departments, wellness and health promotion institutes, international programs, fitness centers and many others.

How can I best prepare for the health education job market?

  • Learn as much in your classes as you possibly can. Take as many adjunct courses to your major as possible: computer, administration, science, communication, human development, Spanish.
  • Gain as much experience as possible by working, volunteering, and acquiring internships.
  • Learn how to prepare a strong resume and write a good cover letter. Keep copies on your hard drive and adjust appropriately for each position.
  • Contact staff in the career placement office and other advisors for advice on various aspects of your job search.
  • Obtain a list of common interview questions. Practice interviewing by role-playing with friends or by yourself in front of the mirror.
  • Acquire multicultural knowledge and skills. Demographic changes require that we become not only culturally sensitive but also culturally competent -- understanding cultural values, beliefs, and uniqueness of all the groups we serve.
  • Read helpful articles and books about job search skills.
  • Prepare a portfolio of your work as evidence of your skills. (All health education majors are required to keep a portfolio.)
  • Obtain letters of recommendation from employers and professors.
  • If the job market appears tight, remain flexible in setting, position, and geographical area.
  • Get prepared to work hard. Looking for a job is a full-time job.

What courses in addition to my major requirements would be helpful?

If you know your career goals, take courses specifically related to them. Get advice from advisors and practitioners. In addition to general studies requirements, courses in communications, business, human development, Spanish, ethnic studies, and technology are helpful.

If you are preparing for public school teaching in health education (subject matter credential):

  • Obtain one or two supplemental teaching areas. Areas in most demand are science, math, computer, and English. Visit the Credentials Office in Modoc 220 for a complete list.
  • Obtain a Crosscultural, Language and Academic Development (CLAD) or Bilingual Crosscultural, Language and Academic Development (BCLAD) emphasis.
  • Develop other skills sought by the schools such as coaching, music, drama, cheerleading, debate, theater, and community activities.

Should I get certified as a health educator?

Information directly from NCHEC

Certification is a process by which a non-governmental agency or certification organization grants recognition to an individual who has met certain predetermined qualifications. The certification of health education specialists is an activity of The National Commission for Health Education Credentialing, Inc. (NCHEC). The certified health education specialist credential is meant to provide professional legitimacy for individuals specifically prepared in health education/health promotion.

Being certified as a health educator attests to an individual's health education knowledge and skills, assists employers in identifying qualified health education practitioners, recognizes a practitioner's commitment to professional health education standards, delineates the scope of health education practice, and provides recognition to individual health education practitioners.

The Department of Health and Community Services recommends that you seriously consider obtaining your certification. You may choose to do this at any time: immediately following graduation, after you have worked in the field awhile, or during your graduate schooling. Your major in health science, health education option, makes you eligible to take the exam for health education specialists offered every spring and fall. However, you will need to do additional studying. Once you pass the national exam given by NCHEC, you will be a Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES).

Information on qualification requirements and study materials may be obtained from NCHEC (www.nchec.org or ncheckal@fast.net or 610-264-8200 or 944 Marcon Blvd. #310, Allentown, PA 18103-8839).

How do I search for a job following graduation?

  • Do your homework on what job settings and for which positions you are interested. On the Internet see the Department of Health and Community Services (http://www.csuchico.edu/hcsv/) and WellTech's page (http://www.welltech.com/empint/) for health education job listings. homepage (
  • Read the classified ads in the geographical areas you are searching.
  • Make appointments to visit and leave a resume with employers who hire health educators.
  • Be prepared to tell a potential employer what a health educator can do for them, and how you might fit into their setting. Show your portfolio.
  • Network through your internship and volunteer experiences. Many entry level jobs are not advertised. Job announcements often are circulated from within.
  • Make use of all the contacts available to you -- friends, family, professors, chance meetings, and acquaintances. Inform them that you are searching for a job and explain the type of position for which you are searching.
  • Keep a time-line chart and files on your job-hunting progress: when, where, and with whom.
For what job description titles should I look other than "health educator?"

Look at all related job descriptions as you will be qualified to work in many settings. Since the term health educator, as used in community settings, is relatively new, you may find other descriptors used in job announcements. Examples include:

  • Health Education Specialist
  • Patient Educator
  • Family Planning Counselor
  • Corporate Fitness Program Coordinator
  • Drug Rehabilitation Director
  • Grant Writer
  • Volunteer Services Coordinator
  • Environmental Educator
  • Safety Educator
  • Cardiac Rehabilitation Worker
  • Tobacco Education Specialist
  • Human Service Worker

Should I go to graduate school?

Graduate school offers more specialized study. A general recommendation is to work first in a field related to the area in which you want to concentrate. Work experience may help you further identify your special interest areas and help you connect theory to applied practice.

Common areas of study in the Schools of Public Health are: health education, epidemiology, environmental health, health services administration, biostatistics, occupational safety and health, maternal and child health, international health and many more.

Related areas of study in other graduate schools are: health education, nursing, social work, counseling psychology, college teaching in health education, recreation administration, physician assistants, and exercise physiology.

Get as much volunteer and internship experience as you can as an undergraduate. Many graduate schools in public health require a certain amount of experience in related fields in addition to good undergraduate grades and acceptable scores on identified exams. Don’t be too intimidated to apply to graduate schools. The most you have to lose is your application fee. One can never tell from the outside whom they might accept and for what reason.

A general rule of thumb is not to go to the same university and especially the same academic department from which you obtained your undergraduate degree. Departments of study have an orientation and personality. You’ve absorbed one university in your undergraduate work. It is now time to experience another focus in the field. If you are limited to the same university as that of your undergraduate work, change your emphasis and expand your knowledge and skill base beyond that of the undergraduate department.

How else can I use my degree with an option in health education?

You are well prepared to take positions in other job settings including various business firms, pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, retailing corporations, Peace Corps, Ameri Corps, community organizations and other service industries.

Many companies are looking for broadly educated and skilled employees. In the health education option you have acquired competencies in group communications; report and grant writing; public presenting with audiovisuals; program design, implementation, and assessment; and group facilitations.