The U.S. Department of Labor defines health educators as those that provide and manage health education programs that help individuals, families, and their communities maximize and maintain healthy lifestyles.
Health educators, also known as Health Education Specialists, are active in communities large and small across the United States addressing needs for health education programs, planning effective programs, analyzing community data, and encouraging healthy lifestyles, policies, and environments. Health Education Specialists work in many different sectors of the workforce, including hospitals and clinics, government, insurance companies, community organizations, non-profits, schools, and universities.
So, how do you successfully become a health education specialist?
Step 1: Get A Bachelor’s Degree or Higher
You will need a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in health education, public health, or a related field with 25 or more credits specifically devoted to health education and promotion. Every college and university varies in the type of degree they offer and your ability to specialize in your undergraduate studies, but many offer some type of health education degree. Make sure your department chair knows that you wish to graduate with the necessary coursework to become certified as a Health Education Specialist. He or she can help you select the courses you need for eligibility. If you are graduate student who wishes to specialize in health education, there are many masters and even doctorate programs in this growing major of study.
Step 2: Get Experience During Undergraduate or Graduate School
Whichever field of study you venture into, it is always beneficial to get hours of direct experience, whether you’re shadowing a professional or getting hands-on practice. Make sure you seek out opportunities to learn beyond the classroom. Taking the initiative will prove to future employers that you’re committed to your education and professional preparation. Join student chapters of membership organizations, such as The Society for Public Health Education (SOPHE) or Eta Sigma Gamma, a National health education honorary.
Also, use undergraduate school as an opportunity to explore the multiple facets of health education and promotion. There will certainly be areas you enjoy more than others, so take the time to explore the diversity of this field. You’ll likely discover what you enjoy doing and maybe a specialty to explore.
Step 3: Keep Records of Your Undergraduate Projects & Experience
We recommend you keep meticulous records of everything you are doing during the course of your academic preparation. You don’t want to approach graduation and the next step of job applications and forget everything what you’ve achieved or participated in over the course of several years, so keep a log of it as you go. It doesn’t have to be anything formal at first.
As you get experience and work with professionals, keep a list of their contact information so you can call upon them for letters of recommendation. Employers will want to see these recommendations - the more the better!
If you’re working on several projects throughout undergraduate or graduate school, make sure you keep all of the information on file so you have something to show a potential employer as well.
Again, if you wait until graduation to compile all of this, you will have a hard time remembering and you will need to scramble to gather all of the details.
Step 4: Get Certified as a Health Education Specialist
Becoming a Certified Health Education Specialists (CHES®) attests to your health education knowledge and skills. It substantiates you as a professional and sets you apart from others in the health education and promotion field. It also shows your commitment to the core competencies of the field of health education and promotion.
More and more employers are requiring CHES®, so it’s in your best interest to get certified early so you can take a big leap within the field as soon as you complete your undergraduate or graduate studies.
Some CHES® holders wait several years to get their certification and most admit they wish they hadn’t waited. Since it’s becoming more of a requirement in the profession, and beneficial to you and your employer, go ahead and take steps now to get certified. There is a student option that allows you to sit for this exam before graduation, if you will have completed your coursework within 90 days of sitting for the exam. A student discount is also available if you are enrolled full time.
Interested in learning more about the CHES® exam? We have everything you need to know, including a handbook for the exam, video testimonials, fact sheets, and a presentation kit that shows all the steps to become a Certified Health Education Specialist.
LEARN MORE ABOUT NCHEC CERTIFICATION