How to Become a Program Coordinator: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become a program coordinator. Research the career requirements, training and experience required for starting a career as a program coordinator.

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Do I Want to Be a Program Coordinator?

Program coordinator positions are found in a number of different fields, including healthcare, recreation and education. They often research, develop and implement various aspects of events, projects and plans and may be responsible for one or several aspects or the entire project. These positions may become stressful when deadlines hover close by.

Job Requirements

At least a bachelor's degree is required for coordinators in any of these areas, and a master's degree could also be required or preferred. Certifications are often required for those in healthcare, and coordinators working in public schools often need teacher certification. The following table contains some common requirements for becoming a program coordinator in each of the three fields:

Healthcare Program Coordinator Requirements Recreation Coordinator Requirements Education Program Coordinator Requirements
Degree Level Bachelor's degree; master's degree may be required* Bachelor's degree; master's degree preferred by some employers* Bachelor's degree; then master's degree for employment*
Degree Fields Health services, public health, public administration, long-term care administration** Social work, public administration, urban studies** Curriculum and instruction, teaching, specific subjects such as science or math**
Licensure and Certification Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), Nurse Practitioner certification, CPR certification may be required depending on position* None* Teaching license or education administrator license typically required**
Experience 0-5 years* 1-5 years* 0-5 years*
Key Skills Analytical skills, problem-solving skills, communication skills, attention to detail, interpersonal skills** Analytical skills, leadership skills, people skills, communication skills** Analytical skills, people skills, decision-making skills, communication skills, instructional skills**
Computer Skills Personal computer, electronic mail, database software, analytical software*** Personal computer, electronic mail, database software, spreadsheet software, presentation software, word processing software*** Personal computer, touch-screen monitor, desktop publishing software, graphics software, spreadsheet software, word processing software***
Technical Skills Medical software, document management software*** Multi-line phone systems, 10-key calculator*** Computer-based training software, MP3 players, smartphones***

Sources: *Monster.com job postings (January 2013), **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, ***ONet Online

Step 1: Complete an Educational or Degree Program

Educational requirements vary for health program coordinators; some employers may hire candidates who have completed high school, while others favor candidates who have earned a certificate, associate's or bachelor's degree in a healthcare-related field. Educational programs offer high school graduates an advanced education in business management and healthcare practices. Topics of study range from medical terminology and physician order processing to dealing with therapeutic and diagnostic procedures. Some schools also offer internship opportunities in their health unit coordinator educational programs.

Some recreation program coordinators enter this field as camp counselors, after school care providers, recreation leaders or activity specialists. Some positions require knowledge of public recreation concepts such as program implementation and evaluation. These positions also typically require night and weekend work. Full-time positions often require applicants to have a degree or an equivalent combination of experience and education. Associate's and bachelor's degree programs are available in a variety of recreation-related disciplines, such as recreation administration. Bachelor's degree programs typically offer courses or tracks in areas such as public recreation, sports management and hospitality.

Prospective candidates seeking to become education program coordinators must first complete a bachelor's degree in an appropriate field. For example, employers seeking program coordinators within a science department may prefer to hire applicants who hold a degree in one of the natural or physical sciences. Similarly, other employers may favor candidates who have a degree in curriculum or teaching or a general instructional discipline.

Success Tips:

  • Take advantage of real-life experiential opportunities. In each area of program coordination, some schools offer hands-on training or internship opportunities. Any experience acquired while pursuing education can prove beneficial to securing employment in the industry, as well as add to a program coordinator's resume.
  • Consider postsecondary education options. Some employers, such as educational institutions, may prefer program coordinators who have earned a master's degree or higher in a respective field. For example, educational institutions hiring a program coordinator for college students majoring in political science may only accept applications from candidates who have completed a master's degree program in political science. Master's degree programs typically last 1-2 years and may include field research or a thesis.

Step 2: Secure Certification or Licensure

Depending on the field, certification or licensure may be required to become a program coordinator. For example, in the healthcare industry, all administrators of nursing care facilities are required to be licensed, and requirements vary by state. However, there are other areas of health services coordination do not need licensing.

Instructional and educational coordinator positions also often require licensing. Most public schools require licensing in either teaching or education administration.

The NRPA certifies applicants to become Certified Park and Recreation Professionals (www.nrpa.org). In order to qualify for the exam, applicants must either earn a bachelor's degree in a recreation related field from an NRPA accredited program, earn any bachelor's degree coupled with at least three years of relevant full-time work experience, have an associate's degree and at least four years of full-time experience in the field or have only full-time experience in the field of at least five years. Some states or employers may also require applicants to have CPR, first aid or lifeguard certification.

Step 3: Find a Program Coordinator Position

Prospective healthcare program coordinators may first need to gain experience in the healthcare industry before becoming a program coordinator. Job seekers may look to government agencies, hospitals and other healthcare facilities for employment. Entry-level responsibilities generally include conducting front office work, greeting patients and processing insurance paperwork. After advancing to a healthcare program coordinator position, duties range from training healthcare providers and hospital staff on new policies to consulting with physicians regarding treatment options. Other responsibilities may include preparing healthcare budgets and answering questions from the public.

Recreation program coordinators schedule, lead, direct or instruct activities. They may work for places such as a community center, state park, nursing home, camp or playground. Advancement opportunities are available info positions such as a recreation director or supervisor; however, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that employers often require that candidates for upper-level or administrative positions hold at least a master's degree in a field such as parks and recreation, public administration or business administration (www.bls.gov).

The BLS also reported that most school districts require instructional program coordinators to have experience in teaching or school administration. Some employers may look for applicants who have helped prepare program budgets and monitored expenditures, while others favor candidates who have experience teaching, advising or counseling students. Aspiring educational program coordinators may also look for leadership opportunities, such as helping to develop student outreach programs or volunteer efforts in order to gain experience with directing students.

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