101 Careers in Public HealthIn 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!

Job Description
Health educators convey health information to the public in ways that people will understand—and, ideally, find interesting and useful, too. They begin by figuring out what people in a given community do and do not know about a particular health topic. In chronic disease prevention, this might be preventing diabetes, controlling asthma, or detecting colon cancer. (Health educators may also teach about many other topics besides chronic disease.) They determine how most people in that community like to learn and what will catch their attention. For example, pamphlets might be good for college students who like to read, but not very useful in an inner-city community where literacy is low. Next, they put together programs—classes, videos, even cell phone texts—that convey the needed information. When possible, they follow up by evaluating the success of the program, to see what people learned and if their behavior or health changed as a result.

Health educators are involved in all levels of health promotion, from designing local programs to serving as advisors for national health campaigns. In addition to teaching members of the general public, in some places they work on systems-level programs, such as teaching convenience store owners how they can stock healthier foods.

Education and Certification
A bachelor’s degree is the minimum qualification to work as a health educator; degrees in health education are available, but another degree plus related experience or training will often suffice. A master’s degree, such as an MPH with specialization in public or community health education, broadens the job possibilities and contributes to the chances for advancement. Certification as a Certified Health Education Specialist, which requires an exam administered by the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing (NCHEC), is preferred for many public health jobs and occasionally is required.

Core Competencies and Skills

  • Knack for explaining complex information in a straightforward, easily understandable way
  • At least basic knowledge of health and medicine, and the ability
  • to understand medical information
  • Excellent spoken and written communication skills
  • Appreciation of cultural diversity
  • Understanding of human psychology and behavior
  • Ability to create a curriculum covering necessary information
  • Understanding of research processes and survey design
  • Ability to write for people with low reading literacy and low health literacy

In 2008, the average salary for a health educator was $49,000. Most earned between $26,000 and $78,000.

Health educators who create and implement public health programs are found in government agencies, nonprofit organizations, college and universities, and sometimes hospitals and medical centers. (In medical settings, they are more likely to provide one-on-one teaching.)

Employment Outlook
Over the next few years, the number of jobs for health educators and the number of qualified job seekers are expected to be in balance. Rising interest in the prevention of disease as a way to control health care costs may lead to more opportunities.

For Further Information