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How to Become a Community Health Specialist

Learn how to become a community health specialist. Research the job description and duties and the education and certification requirements and find out how to start a career in health education.

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Do I Want to Be a Community Health Specialist?

Community health specialists, otherwise known as health educators, help develop and implement programs that inform the public on health-related issues. Essential job duties include assessing the needs of the public, developing educational programs and creating flyers and brochures. Employers include hospitals, schools or government agencies. Travel to conduct meeting or run programs might be necessary and may occur during evenings and weekends.

Job Requirements

A minimum of a bachelor's degree is required for working as a community health specialist, although a master's degree might be necessary for some organizations or positions. Some employers may require employees to be certified. The following table outlines the basic requirements to enter this career:

Common Requirements
Degree Level Bachelor's degree required, but a master's degree may be necessary to obtain certain positions*
Degree Field Health education or health promotion*
Licensure and Certification Certification is not required but certain employers highly prefer candidates who are Certified Health Education Specialists (CHES)*
Experience 3-5 years of experience with related tasks like writing reports, analyzing data and public speaking **
Key Skills Ability to analyze and interpret data, excellent oral and written communication skills, instructional skills*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Inova Health System job posting July 2012.

Step 1: Obtain a Bachelor's Degree

Individuals wishing to become community health specialists may pursue an undergraduate degree in health promotion, community health education or a similar discipline. These programs cover theories and practices in the development and implementation of health education programs. Epidemiology, infectious diseases and consumer health are common course topics covered in community health programs. Undergraduate coursework prepares individuals for entry-level positions in community health organizations or graduate-level study.

Success Tips:

  • Enroll in communication and English classes. Community health specialists must possess superior written and oral communication skills. Students wishing to hone their skills should enroll in communication and English classes while working on their undergraduate degree.
  • Complete an internship experience. Internship experiences reinforce material learned in the classroom and allow students to gain practical experience. Students can list the experience gained in an internship on their resume, which can ultimately improve job prospects.

Step 2: Become Certified

Certification is not mandatory, but many employers seek candidates who are certified. The National Commission for Health Education Credentialing, Inc. offers the Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) designation. The CHES exam consists of 165 multiple choice questions testing seven areas, including planning, implementing, communicating and advocating health education. Individuals wishing to take the exam must hold a minimum of a bachelor's degree or be within three months of completion.

Success Tip:

  • Prepare for the exam. Before taking the exam, individuals should visit the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing, Inc. website. Study guides, recommended reading and practice test questions are available to assist students in their preparation.

Step 3: Gain Experience

Many employers look for candidates who have some work experience. Individuals seeking experience can often gain it by participating in an internship after finishing school or through volunteer opportunities in healthcare settings, such as volunteering at a nursing home or a clinic. It's also important to gain experience with certain tasks expected of community health specialists, such as writing reports, analyzing data, public speaking and managing groups, so it's important for prospective community health specialists to find an entry-level job that will give them experience in these areas.

Step 4: Pursue an Advanced Degree

For advanced public health positions in governmental organizations and some private-sector employers, obtaining a master's degree is necessary. The most commonly held degree is a Master of Public Health. Many public health graduate programs offer concentration areas, such as environmental health, epidemiology, global health or health management and policy. In addition to coursework such as urban health education, biostatistics, health program funding and planning and industrial hygiene, graduate students in public health programs might have to complete fieldwork.

Success Tip:

  • Take advantage of internship opportunities. Students enrolled in a master's degree program should complete an internship to gain valuable hands-on experience.
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