Guest blog written by Alexis Blavos, PhD, MCHES®
As a research team, Jodi Brookins-Fisher, Heidi Hancher-Rauch, Amy Thompson, and I (Alexis Blavos) are using our advocacy and research skills to support certification requirements for health education specialists.
There are so many reasons why this work is important, and in Dr. Brookins-Fisher’s words, “our career defining is the most important work.” First, we must ensure that anyone who does the work of a health education specialist meets the minimum standards of the profession. Second, there are other professionals that are doing work called health education, but are not professionally trained to do so. Third, if health education services are to be reimbursed through insurers, then certification is needed. Taken together, these three points are reasons why my colleagues and I are spending our research dollars (including personal money!) gathering all the evidence we can to advance our profession.
We began our journey in 2019 with our colleague and Professor Emerita, Dianne Kerr. Together, we began by examining the difference between the CHES® and CPH certifications (click HERE for the publication). What we found is that the certifications were not mutually exclusive, but for a health education specialist, the CHES® is the certification option to meet entry-level requirements. Next (in 2020), we needed to gather some baseline data regarding support for certification from academic programs that professionally train health education specialists. Unfortunately, over 95% of university programs do not include taking the CHES® exam as part of graduation requirements. This was valuable in understanding where the profession is so that we can now advocate for new university program requirements (click HERE for this publication). In 2021, the team felt compelled to address the unmet needs of public health workers, including health education specialists, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Years of underfunding in public health escalated and uncovered systemic issues that have resulted in negative consequences for profession, including pandemic fatigue and the perception of disrespect for the profession. The global pandemic and the overall response have highlighted the need to advocate for more boots-on-the-ground health education.
Continuing our work with Dianne Kerr (and Salma Haidar and Carly Glunz), we gathered data from health education specialist to understand which of the Health Education Specialists Responsibilities and Competencies were used in their professional response to the pandemic (click HERE for this publication). We learned that many health education specialists were key players in contact tracing, pandemic response planning, pandemic response communication, and vaccination programs. Indeed, the health education specialists are doing the heavy lifting for our communities. Armed with data, we can advocate with our legislators at the national, state, and local levels to require certification for all health education specialists.
Beyond advocating, each health education specialist can support the profession by participating in surveys. In addition, our research team encourages CHES® and MCHES® to conduct their own research to assist in advancing the field of health education and promotion.Here are some examples to review: