Pursuing a health educator career is an excellent choice for anyone who enjoys teaching others and has an interest in helping people live healthy lives. Health educators work in a wide variety of environments, but the focus is always on sharing ideas with people about improving their health or preventing illness, whether it’s in a traditional teaching mode or in a one-on-one counseling setting. Because of the nature of the job, which often involves a lot of time spent speaking in public, extroverts tend to do well as health educators. This is not to say that introverts can’t succeed, but it will require learning to become comfortable with public speaking. An ability to get along well with others, a knack for communicating ideas in ways that audiences can relate to, and ease with speaking to groups are all very important for anyone considering a health educator medical career.
Many health educators, of course, work in public and private schools, teaching health and related classes, usually to high school or junior high students. This will usually include not only basic health concepts, but also topics geared toward this demographic, such as sex education and the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse. At larger schools, a health educator may teach nothing but health classes, but in some smaller schools, they may be required to teach additional courses, such as phys ed. Health educators also work in colleges and universities, but their role is quite different in these places. Instead of teaching classes, they will often hold small-group seminars on topics of interest to college students, such as binge drinking or sexually transmitted diseases. Because attendance at such events isn’t mandatory, the health educator will usually need a good bit of creativity to come up with programs and events that will make students want to attend.
Quite a large number of health educators work for state and local governments, and in this role they will usually be expected to speak to community groups, churches, schools, and other organizations on a fairly regular basis. In jobs such as these, quite a bit of time may be spent traveling back and forth to events. When not lecturing, health educators employed by governments spend much of their time planning and designing programs to deal with public health concerns. Not all people who work in a health educator career work with classes or groups, however. Some, especially those who are employed by hospitals, work one on one with patients in a variety of ways. They may counsel patients just before they leave the hospital on the best ways to manage their disease or prevent a recurrence. Some specialize in working with people who have just gotten a devastating diagnosis in order to help them understand all their options and to help keep their spirits up.
In order to pursue a health educator career, a person will need at least a bachelor’s degree in health, health education, or a similar major. Naturally, as in most other careers, earning a master’s or doctoral degree will lead to better job opportunities and higher salaries, but it isn’t an absolute requirement. Many employers will pay for health educators to go back to school to earn an advanced degree. Before being hired, a prospective health educator will need to pass the Certified Health Education Specialist exam, or CHES. Failure to score high enough on this demanding test will delay the start of a health educator career, so it’s important to prepare well for it. Earning continuing education credits will usually be required in most jobs, in order to stay current with new developments in public health. Salaries for health educators are quite good; half of those working in the field earn between $33,000 and $60,000 a year. Some make quite a bit more, and higher pay usually goes with experience and longevity on the job. Prospects for job growth are good; the need for health educators is expected to be at or above the average for all jobs in the foreseeable future.