Health Education Specialist Degree and Certificate Programs
Learn about undergraduate and graduate degree and certificate programs that prepare students to become health education specialists. Explore the typical coursework and potential career choices, along with some continuing education options. Check out employment outlook and salary statistics for health educators.
In order to become a Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES), a candidate must complete a degree program in health education. Bachelor's and master's degree programs, as well as graduate certificate programs, prepare graduates to take the CHES exam. Bachelor's degree programs qualify graduates for entry-level jobs, while graduate education could be required for more advanced or administrative positions. Students who have gained a solid understanding of chronic diseases, health issues and epidemiology might qualify to become health education coordinators, community health consultants or wellness program directors.
Bachelor's Degree in Health Education
Bachelor's degree students can choose to major in public health education or community health education or focus their studies on exercise and fitness or health studies. These degree programs develop the skills and knowledge necessary to educate other people and communities on improving their health and well-being through nutrition, exercise and disease prevention. Graduates also learn how to properly plan, implement and administer various types of health education strategies, interventions and programs. Generally, a high school diploma or GED is the only prerequisite for admission, though some schools have specific minimum entrance exam score and high school GPA requirements.
A bachelor's degree in health education requires students to take a certain number of physical education classes, such as tennis, yoga or water safety instruction. An internship is often an important part of the degree program, providing students with hands-on experience in a real-world setting. Students typically take courses that include the following topics:
- Public health education and promotion
- Personal health behaviors
- Chronic, communicable and degenerative diseases
- Safety, first aid and emergency care
- Health issues by demographic
- Human sexuality
- Environmental health risks
- Personal nutrition and health
- Health program planning, development and evaluation
Although many health educator positions require a graduate degree, some entry-level occupations exist for individuals with bachelor's degrees. These health educator jobs are available in a wide variety of industries and settings, such as hospitals, schools, fitness centers, health care facilities, public health departments and government agencies. Specific job titles include:
- Community health consultant
- Health education coordinator
- Clinical instructor
- Health promotion specialist
Graduates of a bachelor's degree program in health education are eligible to sit for the Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) exam. This exam is administered by the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing, Inc. and covers the fundamental skills, knowledge and responsibilities of a health educator (www.nchec.org). Although certification is considered attractive by employers and some state agencies require certified applicants for some positions, it is a voluntary credential. To maintain certification, Certified Health Education Specialists must accrue continuing education credit hours. Applicable continuing education topics include women's health, mold mitigation and remediation, youth obesity and public health laws.
Graduate Certificate in Health Education
A graduate certificate in health education is intended for those who are already employed in a health-related field. Graduate studies allow individuals to enhance their knowledge and increase their job and earning potential. A graduate certificate is also helpful for those who already teach in another area and are looking to switch their primary focus to health education. Students can find schools that offer some or all program coursework online. A graduate certificate can usually be earned in a year or less.
Candidates for a graduate certificate in health education must first have completed a bachelor's degree. Programs intended for certified teachers could require a master's degree, teacher certification and teaching experience.
Course topics examine the basic theories and strategies of health education and promotion at the graduate level. Students learn how to develop public health classes and programs and to identify community health education needs. Some classes commonly found include:
- Health education methods
- Curriculum development
- Communications and public health
- Health informatics
- Impacts of stress on health
- Social and behavioral influences on public health
- Effects of drug use
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were 55,270 employed health educators in 2012, with a projected increase of 37% expected between 2010 and 2020 (www.bls.gov). This much-faster-than-average growth is partly due to the rising cost of health care, prompting many insurance companies to employ health educators to help people live healthier lives. The BLS further reported that the average annual salary for health educators as of May 2012 was $53,100, with the majority employed in hospitals.
Master's Degree in Health Education
Students interested in receiving a master's degree in health education have the option of a Master of Science (M.S.) or a Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Health Education. Master's students might have to participate in an internship during the program, though this requirement could be waived for those already employed in a healthcare profession. Graduates qualify to work cooperatively with other educators, nutritionists, therapists, hygienists, nurses and psychologists to provide broad care and support to individuals and groups.
A bachelor's degree is required for entrance into a master's degree program in health education. It's preferable if student's major in health education or a related area, and undergraduate performance is a common admissions consideration. Some programs require prerequisite courses in anatomy, physiology, psychology and public speaking.
Both the M.S. and the M.Ed. degree programs emphasize applied research and administrative concerns as well as methods and strategies for teaching others how to maintain a healthy lifestyle. These graduate degree programs train students to be leaders in the field of health education by monitoring and assessing community health programs for effectiveness and efficiency. Students learn and research the following topics:
- Purposes of health education
- School health education programs
- Individual and group behavior modification
- Health education resources
- Human ecology
- Community health assessment
- Psychosocial elements of health
- Contemporary issues in health education
- Biostatistics for health workers
- Health education research techniques
A master's degree provides advancement beyond entry-level positions, qualifying graduates for jobs in administrative areas. Most health educator positions in the public health sector generally require a master's degree. Managerial career titles available to those with a master's degree include:
- Corporate wellness program director
- Disease management or prevention researcher
- Health education program supervisor
Certified Health Education Specialists could apply master's-level studies toward continuing education requirements to renew the credential. Graduates could also pursue a doctoral degree in health education which could expand career possibilities. Doctorate-holders qualify for academic research positions and can become a professors of health education at the university level.
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