CHES® Career Profile: Environmental Health Educator
Certified Health Education Specialists® are able to pursue a variety of careers in a number of different industries. With specialized training in areas of program development, management, communications, and more, CHES® and MCHES® have the ability to bring multiple advantages and skillsets to any position. We sat down with environmental health educator Andrea Jensen to learn more about how being a CHES® has impacted her career.
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What does an environmental health educator do?
As an environmental health educator, I provide education for the Utah County Health Department in a variety of areas: asthma, air quality, radon, mold, household hazardous waste disposal, recycling, etc.
What drew you to a career as an environmental health educator?
I was drawn to environmental health because I was interested in helping other families with asthma. Our family’s journey began 20 years ago when my son was hospitalized with breathing problems and was diagnosed with asthma.
My asthma education consisted of 30 pages of asthma articles from a helpful respiratory therapist. I read every page. This was before the internet was readily accessible for everyone, so I relied on our asthma specialist, respiratory therapists, and articles in magazines. Soon my other two children and I were all diagnosed with asthma, and we have had many doctor visits, urgent care visits, emergency department visits, and a total of 12 hospitalizations.
I vowed to learn as much as I could to help our family and then developed a desire to help other families. I returned to college to pursue another bachelor’s degree, this time in Public Health. I graduated with my second degree in 2011 and passed the CHES® exam.
READ MORE: How to Become a Health Education Specialist
In what ways are being a CHES® beneficial for your career, your employer, and individuals you work with?
Being CHES® certified allowed me to sit for the National Certified Asthma Educator (AE-C) exam. The AE-C certification was originally created for medical personnel, but in 2016 they allowed CHES® certified individuals to sit for the exam. I was a bit worried about passing the exam, so I studied hard (and applied years of real-life experience) and passed the exam!
READ MORE: How to Study for the CHES Exam
What do you find fulfilling about your career as a health education specialist?
I love being the asthma program coordinator for our asthma home visit program. I have the opportunity to provide one-on-one home visits, which is rare in public health. I can now provide guidelines-based asthma education to residents and help them avoid some of the bumps in the road.
READ MORE: The Value of Health Education Credentialing
How does the Utah Department of Health Asthma Home Visit Program Work?
Our asthma home visit program meticulously collects data to show the success of our program. This has allowed for another 5-year funding cycle. So far, our participants have successfully decreased:
- Hospitalizations by 82%
- ER visits by 70%
- Missed school days by 52%
- Missed workdays by 75%
How is the asthma program and the Utah Department of Health adapting to COVID-19?
With the onset of the current COVID-19 pandemic, we have moved to "virtual home visits." This required quick work to find end-to-end encrypted video software and a BAA for virtual visits. The BAA and new consent documents for virtual visits had to be drafted and then approved by our legal team.
It is essential that we continue our asthma home visit program during the pandemic because those with asthma are at high risk for complications from COVID-19. From my family’s experience, I know that ANY respiratory infection can go from bad to worse very quickly – ending up in another hospitalization. We teach our asthma home to visit participants on how to:
- Know if their asthma is controlled
- Find the right treatment plan
- Use proper inhaler technique
- Properly use, clean, and sanitize the canister kits after using a nebulizer for a breathing treatment
How can a health education specialist help those with asthma?
We offer many resources for the participants of the home visit program. Since asthma requires a multi-component approach, we also include information about the importance of an allergy and asthma-friendly home. We also:
- Educate participants about common asthma triggers, where they are found in the home, and what to do about them
- Provide a mattress pad cover, pillowcase cover and allergy, and asthma-friendly cleaning supplies
- Show them how to use all asthma trigger reduction products and can link participants to services if they have water damage, need carpet removed, etc.
Part of my job is also to provide accurate asthma education via social media. My asthma blog, My Life as an Asthma Mom, has been listed by Healthline in “The Best Asthma Blogs” for the past 9 years running, and I'm hoping to get my 10th award this spring.
READ MORE: The Best Asthma Blogs of 2019
My blog is also included in the NIH Library of Medicine Searchable Archives. I also maintain a Facebook and Twitter account for My Life as an Asthma Mom, making sure I only include accurate information from reputable sources.
How do you and other health education specialists in your area impact local policies and initiatives?
Air quality outreach is important in our valley since we have episodes of poor air quality year-round. I help residents learn how to track the PM 2.5 (small particle pollution) in winter and ground-level ozone levels in summer. I also work with schools and businesses to promote the Air Quality Flag program.
I also educate residents about indoor air quality - common indoor air pollution sources, including the risk of radon gas in a home. I demonstrate how to use short-term radon kits, how to interpret the test results, and what to do if their home has an elevated radon level. Last year, I gave a presentation at the EPA Region 8 Radon Conference regarding “Difficult to Install Mitigation Systems,” using my home as a case study. My home was difficult to mitigate and eventually required two separate mitigation systems.
I field inquiries about how to dispose of household hazardous waste (oil, gas, pesticides, antifreeze, unused medications, etc.) I direct them to the appropriate location and make sure they also have information for recycling batteries, electronics, fluorescent lights, etc. I also receive calls from renters and homeowners who are worried about water leaks and possible mold damage. I provide education on proper mold clean up, when to call the professionals, and what remediation resources are available.
I love my work because Environmental Health touches so many areas of our life. My tasks vary day today and I never have a dull moment.
CHES® Certification for Public Health Educators
Are you interested in learning more about how to gain the skills and information you need to succeed as a public health education professional? Consider CHES® certification. Certified Health Education Specialists (CHES®) are skilled in a variety of components of public and private health education initiatives, including:
- Leadership and Management
- Ethics and Professionalism
READ MORE: The 7 Areas of Responsibility for CHES®
NCHEC offers resources for public health professionals looking for public health education certification as well as study guides, resources to help you market your degree and certifications, and more.
How to Become a Health Education Specialist →