In this weekly feature, the editors of SpringBoard highlight one career in the health care professions–including a basic description, educational requirements, core competencies/key skills needed, and related web sites and professional organizations where you can find more information!101 Careers in Public Health

Job Description

At a tobacco “quitline,” counselors take calls from members of the public who want to quit smoking. They help each caller make a plan for quitting and then follow up to see how they are doing. They use special interviewing techniques to increase motivation and guide callers through the quitting process. At some quitlines, the counselors can help callers obtain free nicotine patches or gum. Counselors keep records of calls and often are required to use a computerized charting system, which allows data to be collected for quality assurance and research. Some quitlines offer interactive, web-based services as well. Quitlines tend to be open from early morning to late at night, so counselors usually work either set hours or in shifts. There may be an option to work part-time or even from home.

Education and Certification

Quitline services generally look for people with at least a bachelor’s degree. Some ask for training in social work, psychology, or another field that incorporates counseling, and some prefer counselors with master’s degrees. There is usually on-the-job training in specific methods and techniques to be used.

Core Competencies and Skills

  • Emotional stability
  • Strong listening skills
  • Patience and empathy to work with callers who may have multiple mental, emotional, or physical challenges
  • Ability to help guide people toward finding their own solutions to problems
  • Fluency in a language other English (not required but can be extremely helpful)
  • Ability to follow a protocol and to use the counseling style directed by the helpline organization


Quitline counselors are not highly paid, but it can be a fulfilling job. A starting salary of around $30,000 per year is not uncommon, with supervisors earning in the $40,000 to $50,000 range.


Quitline counselors work for nonprofit organizations, health departments, and universities. There are also for-profit organizations that run quitline services, both for health departments and for corporations.

Employment Outlook

Most states have at least one tobacco quitline, and there seems to be ongoing support for such services. Working as a quitline counselor can be a good entry-level opportunity for someone interested in health behavior or in direct-service programs. There are also helplines to assist with substance abuse, problem gambling, domestic violence, and other health issues (requirements for employment vary).

For Further Information


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