Health Educator

Making the best health choice can be daunting. With a plethora of information available from friends, online content, and physicians, sifting out pertinent and accurate knowledge isn’t always easy. Thankfully, health educators who are masters at sifting through health information and sharing it. They are ready and willing to help people make the best health choices they can. 

Health educators are professionals who help prevent illness and promote wellness through education programs. They are employed in hospitals, clinics, public health offices, government agencies, and even businesses.

Not only do they assess community wellness through interviews and surveys, but they also craft targeted plans to address the issues they uncover. After implementing the plans, they again survey and interview participants to determine the efficacy of the program. Health educators tackle a myriad of health issues, including sexual health, obesity, nutrition, fitness, and diabetes. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2021), this profession is thriving with an anticipated 12 percent increase in jobs nationwide between 2020 and 2030. This translates into 7,600 new positions in the next ten years. 

On average, health education specialists earn $65,530 per year, although top earners in this field (90th percentile) can earn more than $101,000 per year (BLS May 2020). 

This exciting career can be launched with just a bachelor’s degree. Continue reading to learn the steps it takes to become a health educator, what typical job duties entail, and what certification steps may be required. 

Health Educator Specializations & Degree Types

There is a wide range of degrees for health educators. Professionals in this field have earned bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorates. Typical degree programs include health education, public health, health promotion, human development, community health, and social work.

Please note that in order to be eligible to become a Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES), degrees need to be explicitly in “health education.” Details are in the certification section below.

Admissions Requirements for Health Educator Programs

Requirements for admission vary based on the type of degree pursued. 

Bachelor’s degree programs require that applicants have graduated from high school or have earned a GED. Students need to provide official transcripts, ACT or SAT scores, letters of recommendation, personal essays, an online application, and pay an application fee. 

Graduate programs such as master’s and doctorates typically require students to have completed an undergraduate degree. GRE scores may be required, as well as in-person interviews for more competitive graduate programs.

Health Educator Program Accreditation

Accreditation for health educator programs is important as it tells students that the program they are enrolling in meets or exceeds minimum standards of quality. Additionally, if students need to transfer between programs, accreditation helps the institution determine the acceptability of credits already completed. 

Accreditation can be from programmatic entities or from regional bodies recognized by the Department of Education’s Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). Currently, there is no programmatic certifying body for health educator programs. However, the Council on Education for Public Health Accreditation (CEPH) accredits public health programs. 

Please note that in order to become a Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES), students need to complete their education at an accredited facility.

On-Campus Health Educator Degree Programs

University of Utah – College of Health 

This health education specialist and wellness coaching master’s of science (MS) degree program is the only program in the country where graduates are eligible to sit for both the National Health & Wellness Coach certification exam and the Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) exam. During this non-thesis program, students learn the necessary skills to become excellent health educators or top-tier health and wellness coaches. 

Coursework over the two-year program focuses on health and wellness, health programming and evaluation, how to be an effective coach, and practical experiences that prepare students to become professionals in this field. 

Applicants must have completed prerequisite coursework in human physiology, algebra, anatomy and physiology, health education, and nutrition. Additional admission requirements include a personal statement, a 3.0 undergraduate GPA, letters of recommendation, GRE scores, official transcripts, and TOEFL or IELTS scores for international students. 

  • Location: Salt Lake City, UT
  • Duration: Two years 
  • Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU) 
  • Tuition: $15,892.42 for 12 credits

University of New Mexico – College of Education

Students in the University of New Mexico College of Education’s bachelor’s of science (BS) in health education program not only attend lectures but also actively work in the community to develop culturally appropriate health education programs. The programs developed by students aim to reduce health-related risky behaviors in order to decrease morbidity and mortality in their participants. 

This program can be completed on campus in four years. Students are required to complete a minimum of 122 credits in courses such as the principles of epidemiology, social determinants and multicultural health, and microbiology for health sciences. Admission requirements include SAT or ACT scores, official high school transcripts, and an online application. 

  • Location: Albuquerque, NM 
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Tuition: $956.24 per credit 

Mansfield University of Pennsylvania 

The bachelor’s of science in community health education at the Mansfield University of Pennsylvania prepares students to promote healthy lifestyles. Graduates will have the skills to work with individuals and communities alike. There is a strong emphasis placed on preventative health strategies to help communities make data-driven decisions prior to issues arising. 

Empathy for individuals is at the core of all classes in this program. Courses students are required to take include health promotion, epidemiology, stress management, and program implementation and evaluation. Many community health education students join the Mansfield University Community Health Club (MUCH), where they work to bring awareness to health-related issues on campus. 

  • Location: Mansfield, PA 
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  • Tuition: $482 per credit 

Southeastern Louisiana University – College of Nursing and Health Sciences

Southeastern Louisiana University College of Nursing and Health Sciences offers one of only two health education degrees in Louisiana. The bachelor’s of science in health sciences is an ideal degree for students looking for a career in health education or as a stepping stone to additional education as a physician assistant, occupational therapist, public health educator, or similar career. 

While this isn’t a specific health education and promotion degree, students can take sufficient coursework in order to qualify for the Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) exam. These classes include foundations of health education, health instruction, and worksite health promotion. 

  • Location: Hammond, LA 
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
  • Tuition: $10,601.50 for 12 credits

University of Tennessee, Knoxville – College of Health, Education, and Human Sciences

Students who have already completed an undergraduate degree can earn a master’s in public health with a concentration in community health education at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville College of Health, Education, and Human Sciences. 

This degree offers flexible learning options, with many of the courses offered in the evenings or on the weekend. Most students attend part-time while continuing to work or caring for the family. The MPH is a non-thesis professional program aimed at students interested in working directly with clients or with community organizations. 

All students in this program are required to complete an applied practice experience that consists of at least 240 hours of work experience. Students can choose from a variety of projects or even propose their own. Over 200 organizations in 32 states have hosted students from this program. About 30 percent of students are hired by their practice experience site. 

  • Location: Knoxville, TN 
  • Duration: Two to three years
  • Accreditation: Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH)
  • Tuition: $1758 per credit

Online or Hybrid Health Educator Degree Programs

Arizona State University – College of Health Solutions 

Arizona State University’s College of Health Solutions offers a bachelor’s of science (BS) in health education and health promotion. Graduates are prepared to plan, implement, and manage health education programs that teach participants about a variety of health issues, including exercise, substance abuse, sexual health, and nutrition. Not only will students learn how to assess the population for the best approach, but they also examine how to effectively deliver the necessary information to encourage behavioral change. 

This fully online program can be completed in four years. Students are required to complete classes in health theory, epidemiology, the methods of health education, and the science of well-being. Upon graduation, students are eligible to sit for the Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) exam. 

  • Location: Tempe, AZ
  • Duration: Four years 
  • Accreditation: The Higher Learning Commission (HLC) 
  • Tuition: $688 per credit 

University of South Carolina – Arnold School of Public Health

At the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health, there are seven certificates and degrees offered under their Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior (HPEB) department, including the professional online master’s in public health (MPH) in health promotion, education, and behavior. 

The goal of this program is to create leaders and advocates who can bring about change in organizations, communities, and individuals for healthier outcomes. Students receive an interdisciplinary education, not just in health education, in order to produce well-rounded graduates with critical thinking skills across subject matters. 

Working professionals can complete their asynchronous coursework in as little as two years without having to relocate. Admission requirements include a bachelor’s degree, two years of work experience in a health-related field, GRE scores above the 50th percentile, TOEFL or IELTS scores (for international students), a resume, a statement of purpose, three letters of recommendation, and official transcripts. 

  • Location: Columbia, SC
  • Duration: 24 to 26 months
  • Accreditation: Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH)
  • Tuition: $14,880 per semester

University of North Dakota – College of Education & Human Development

The bachelor of science in public health education at the University of North Dakota College of Education & Human Development is an entirely online four-year degree. Students in this program will learn to serve in public health clinics, hospitals, community health centers, and schools. Coursework is centered on how to teach healthy practices to improve quality of life. 

To help put their learning into practice, this degree requires students to complete a 12 credit hour internship. Should students want to pursue additional studies, this program offers a 4+1 option, where students can complete both their undergraduate and master’s degree in just five years. 

  • Location: Grand Forks, ND 
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Tuition: $441.51 per credit 

Cleveland University-Kansas City – College of Health Sciences

The online master’s of science in health education and promotion at the Cleveland University-Kansas City College of Health Sciences can be completed in as little as two years. The goal of this program is to prepare students to plan, implement, and evaluate health education programs. Graduates work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, non-profits, government agencies, private business, higher education, and doctor’s offices. 

To complete this degree, students must earn at least 36 credits, of which 21 must be in core coursework. Required classes include applied health behavioral theory, epidemiology, ecology, environmental health, and research methods. Admission requirements include already holding a bachelor’s degree and providing official transcripts, a professional statement, a current resume, and letters of recommendation. 

  • Location: Overland Park, KS  
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Tuition: $650 per credit 

University of Florida – College of Health and Human Performance

Graduates of the University of Florida’s online bachelor’s of science in health education work in a variety of careers, including fitness counselor, drug rehabilitation specialist, public health information officer, and more. All courses are offered entirely online, including labs, so students can complete their degrees without needing to relocate. 

There is a strong commitment in this program to preparing students to work in the industry. Students can focus their coursework on community, clinical, or worksite settings and must complete a 12-credit internship. There are numerous specialization classes students can take, including minority issues, HIV/AIDS, women’s health, nutrition for special populations, and human sexuality education. 

  • Location: Gainesville, FL 
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
  • Tuition: $16,580 per credit 

How Long Does it Take to Become a Health Educator?

A career as a health educator can begin with as little as four years of education after high school. Graduate degrees, which can take between two to six more years to complete, can be beneficial for employment and advancement purposes, but are not required for entry-level work. 

How To Become a Health Educator – Step-by-Step Guide

Step 1: Graduate from High School or Complete a GED (Four Years)

A high school diploma or a GED is the first step towards becoming a health educator. Students can prepare for this career while still in high school by taking courses such as anatomy and physiology, psychology, health, and biology. Advanced placement classes, and the tests associated with them, can help students earn college credit effectively reducing the number of classes they are required to take in college. 

Step 2: Complete a Bachelor’s Degree (Four Years) 

A bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution is a requirement to work as a health educator. While students can enter this field from a variety of majors, only majors that are explicitly labeled “health education” are accepted for eligibility for the Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) exam. 

Alternatively, students who complete a degree such as health sciences, psychology, or health promotion can meet eligibility requirements by taking at least 25 semester-hours (or 37 quarter-hours) in the “Seven Areas of Responsibilities and Competencies for Health Education Specialists.”

Step 3: Obtain Certification (Optional, Timeline Varies)

Certification is not required to work as a health educator. However, many employers require applicants to have earned a Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) credential. The 165-question three-hour exam evaluates candidates’ competency in the “Seven Areas of Responsibilities and Competencies for Health Education Specialists.” This exam is offered twice a year either in April or October. Students may apply to take the exam while still in school if they are within 90 days of graduation.   

Step 4: Attend Graduate School (Optional, Two to Six Years)

Graduate school is not necessary to work as a health educator, but it can improve employability or help with advancement in the workplace. Typical graduate programs pursued by health educators include a master’s of public health (MPH), a master’s of education in health and wellness, or a master’s in health education. 

There are also numerous doctorate programs for those interested in working in research, higher-level management, or policymaking jobs. Professionals who hold advanced degrees may be eligible to sit for the Master Certified Health Education Specialist (MCHES) exam. 

Step 5: Maintain Certification (Ongoing)

Professionals who hold a CHES or MCHES credential must renew their certification annually. The cost to renew is $60. In addition to annual renewal, certificate holders must complete 75 continuing education contact hours (CECH) every five years. 

What Do Health Educators Do?

Health educators work in many different locations including nonprofits, public health offices, hospitals, colleges, clinics, and even businesses. Job duties can vary based on official job titles and places of employment but typically include:

  • Surveying the community they work with to assess health needs
  • Assisting individuals in accessing health-related information and education
  • Determining if current health education programs are effective based on data gathered from the community
  • Reducing mortality and morbidity of the population they are working with through education to mitigate health-related risky behavior
  • Gathering and analyzing data collected through interviews and surveys
  • Developing and conducting training or classes on various health-related topics
  • Overseeing employees
  • Maintaining records for grant or funding purposes

Health Educator Certifications & Licensure

Currently, there are no national licensing requirements for health educators in the US. 

Certification is optional, although highly recommended as many employers require it. The most common certification is as a Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) through the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing (NCHEC). Candidates must have earned a bachelor’s degree in health education or have completed relevant coursework. Tests are offered twice a year. 

Professionals in the field who have earned advanced degrees may choose to sit for the Master Certified Health Education Specialist (MCHES) exam. To qualify for this credential, candidates must have at least five years of CHES experience or five years of experience as a health educator and a qualifying master’s degree (or specified coursework in the “Seven Areas of Responsibility”).

How Much Do Health Educators Make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2020), there are 57,920 health education specialists in the US. Their salaries are as follows:

  • 10th percentile: $33,720
  • 25th percentile: $41,870
  • 50th percentile (median): $56,500
  • 75th percentile: $77,300
  • 90th percentile: $101,890

Health Educator Career Alternatives

Here are a few alternatives to a career as a health educator. 

Become a Crisis Counselor

People who have an immediate need for mental health care services because of a traumatic event are cared for by crisis counselors. Traumatic events can happen for many reasons, including terrorism, a natural disaster, war, workplace assault, and more. Crisis counselors provide short-term care and help clients take the first steps towards healing, including placing them with long-term mental health services.

  • Typical Education: Bachelor’s degree, although a master’s is necessary for licensing
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC)

Become a Social Worker

The ultimate problem solvers are social workers. They work with families and individuals to access social services, find housing, navigate healthcare, or schedule critical appointments. They work with everyone from the elderly to children, teens, and disabled individuals. They can also provide counseling services to their clients. 

  • Typical Education: Master’s degree
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB)

Become a Clinical Documentation Specialist

Clinical documentation specialists are critical to ensuring that health care records meet official standards. They are experts in medical coding practices such as ICD-10 and often have extensive electronic medical records experience. 

  • Typical Education: Certificate
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: Association of Clinical Documentation Integrity Specialists (ACDIS)
Kimmy Gustafson

Kimmy Gustafson

Writer

Kimmy is a freelance writer with extensive experience writing about healthcare careers and education. She has worked in public health, at health-focused nonprofits, and as a Spanish interpreter for doctor’s offices and hospitals. She has a passion for learning and that drives her to stay up to date on the latest trends in healthcare. When not writing or researching, she can be found pursuing her passions of nutrition and an active outdoors lifestyle.

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