Health & Wellness Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

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What are the pros and cons of a health and wellness career? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary information to see if becoming a health and wellness professional is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career in Health and Wellness

Professionals in health and wellness are trained in physical and nutritional best practices to help clients make the healthiest life choices possible. Fitness trainer/instructor, health educator and high school health teacher are three careers in health and wellness that you might consider. Here are a few pros and cons of health and wellness careers:

Fitness Trainer/Instructor Health Educator High School Health Teacher
Career Overview Fitness trainers and instructors motivate and lead individuals and groups in various forms of exercise and physical training. Health educators promote wellness and healthy behaviors by developing informational materials and teaching classes. High school health teachers educate students on nutrition, self-esteem, sexual health and sometimes physical activity.
Education Requirements High school diploma or a GED, although an undergraduate degree may be required for certain positions At least a bachelor's degree At least a bachelor's degree
Program Length 1-2 years for an associate's degree, about 4 years for a bachelor's degree About 4 years for a bachelor's degree, 1-2 years more for a master's degree About 4 years for a bachelor's degree, 1-2 years more for a master's degree
Certification and Licensing Employers may require certification Certification is required for certain positions State licensure is required by all public and many private schools
Work Experience Some positions are entry-level, while other employers request some prior experience as a trainer 1-3 years of experience may be required by employers Employers may request 2-3 years of experience
Job Outlook for 2012-2022 As fast as average growth (13%) compared to all occupations* Faster than average growth (19%) compared to all occupations * Slower than average growth (6%) compared to all occupations (all high school teachers)*
Median Salary (2014) Roughly $34,980* Roughly $50,430* Roughly $56,310 (all high school teachers)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Fitness Trainer and Instructor

As a fitness trainer or instructor, you may teach and train groups or individuals in fitness and exercise. You'll demonstrate correct exercising methods, adjust and keep track of clients' progress and help with weight maintenance and nutrition. Pilates, yoga and aerobics are common areas of expertise. Whether you work as a group exercise leader or as a personal trainer, your area of expertise can affect your job duties. In 2010, the BLS stated that 61% of professionals in this field work in recreational and fitness centers. However, there are still a plethora of jobs located in health clinics, community centers, residences and more.

Requirements

Although you may just need a high school diploma or a GED, educational requirements vary a good deal in this field. Some employers may require that you earn an associate's or bachelor's degree in health or a related field. You'll often need to have up-to-date CPR certification and even potentially need to earn certification from a professional organization, like the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA) or the American Council on Exercise (ACE). You must be at least 18, have current CPR certification and pass an exam to become a certified fitness instructor through the ACE.

Here are a few jobs that employers posted online in December of 2012:

  • A fitness club in California sought a group fitness instructor with current CPR certification and nationally accredited aerobic certification, preferably from the AFAA or ACE. Candidates should be comfortable teaching exercises for all levels of fitness.
  • In Washington, a fitness club was looking for a personal trainer who would work directly with clients in areas like aerobic training, resistance training and nutrition planning. CPR and Automated External Defibrillator (AED) certification were both required. In addition to these requirements, applicants needed personal training certification in one of many approved areas, like health fitness specialist, cancer exercise trainer or master personal fitness trainer. A degree in a relevant field could substitute for certification.
  • A Texas medical center was seeking a fitness specialist with a bachelor's degree in exercise science or kinesiology and fitness/aerobics certifications. The specialist would work on a team of healthcare professionals in the cardiology department. Providing fitness assessments and designing exercise programs were two major job duties.

Standing Out

A solid way to stand out as a fitness instructor is to gain expertise in a discipline that continues to grow in popularity, like yoga. A U.S. News & World Report article reported that the estimated number of individuals in the U.S. involved in yoga grew from 4.3 million to 14.3 million between 2001 and 2010; these statistics were collected by a research company for a widely read yoga magazine. Also, between 2002 and 2011, subscriptions to that yoga magazine increased by 300%. Gaining certification or registration in your field of expertise can help as well. The Yoga Alliance offers standards and guidelines that many official yoga instruction training programs follow if you want to become a Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT).

Health Educator

Health educators are in charge of educating groups and individuals on health and wellness topics. They work in a variety of settings, like colleges, health care facilities, nonprofit organizations, private companies and public health departments. A few typical job duties include determining what individuals and communities need to improve health, designing education programs, creating educational materials and media, distributing health services information, advocating for policy improvements and supervising staffs. You may end up working to educate individuals, groups and/or families.

Requirements

For entry-level positions, you'll need to earn at least a bachelor's degree in health science, health education or a related field, although a higher degree may be necessary for jobs in public health or government. Certain positions may also require that you become a Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) through the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing, Inc. You will need to pass an exam to earn this certification and complete 75 hours of health education continuing education every five years to maintain it. The number of years of experience you'll need to get a job depends largely on the requirements of an employer.

The following three health education positions were posted online in December 2012:

  • In Jersey City, a university medical center's wellness education department was searching for a health educator with at least a bachelor's degree in health and wellness or a similar discipline plus a year of experience. The job required performing research, designing courses and events, marketing these programs and teaching. Applicants who know how to perform body fat tests and take blood pressure were preferred.
  • In New York City, a family planning and children's aid organization was seeking a health educator/counselor with a BA degree in health education or at least 2-3 years of field experience. The health educator would teach classes on birth control, STIs and sexuality at schools; provide HIV counseling services; and help coordinate family planning services. Applicants who were fluent in English and Spanish were preferred.
  • The health education department of a California medical group was hiring a health educator to evaluate patients' nutritional needs and develop health education plans for them. Although a bachelor's degree and professional certification were accepted for the job, a master's degree and 2-3 years of hospital or outpatient experience were preferred.

Standing Out

Analytical, instructional, social, writing, computer literacy and trouble-shooting skills are all typically valued skills in this field, so taking classes to develop these abilities can make you more attractive to employers. Per the BLS, additional jobs should open for health educators who teach preventative health practices that reduce the likelihood of contracting cancer as well as methods on recognizing types of cancer in the early stages, so focusing on health education in relation to cancer could set you up for more job opportunities. In addition, learning a second language can open a number of doors in health education. For example, many online job ads indicated that health educators who can work with the Spanish-speaking community were preferred.

High School Health Teacher

Your job as a high school teacher is to help students prepare for college or the workforce. As a health and wellness high school health teacher, you'll usually be responsible for developing and implementing a curriculum covering topics like sex, drugs, human anatomy, body image, nutrition, fitness and more. Sometimes, you'll also be in charge of physical education activities. You'll set goals, monitor the progress of your students and communicate regularly with school counselors, administrators and parents. Unfortunately, according to the BLS, the number of jobs for high school teachers in general is likely to have minimal growth from 2010-2020.

Requirements

A bachelor's degree in health or a related discipline is typically the minimum education you'll need. In order to work in all public and many private schools, you're required to earn a teaching license from the state in which you intend to work. The amount of experience you'll need depends on the position. In some cases, you can gain classroom experience by starting out as a teaching assistant.

In December of 2012, the following handful of high school health teaching positions were listed online:

  • A nationwide K-12 teacher hiring company was seeking part-time health and physical education teachers for virtual classrooms. For grades 9-12, requirements included a bachelor's degree, at least three years of experience and a state health teaching license for grades 6-12. Candidates would need to be familiar with computer troubleshooting, database tools and Internet tools.
  • In Brooklyn, an independently owned and operated charter school was hiring a health education teacher with at least two years of experience in an urban charter school classroom and literacy certification in health education from the state. Although a bachelor's degree was acceptable, a master's degree was preferred. The position involved teachings topics related to nutrition, first aid, substance abuse, sexuality and disease prevention.
  • A juvenile justice department in Virginia sought a health and physical education teacher with a bachelor's degree and state licensure to teach high school students in jail. Candidates with prior teaching experience in alternative education settings were preferred.

Standing Out

In order to gain more experience at the entry-level, you may work as a health and physical education substitute teacher. Although substitute teacher requirements vary a bit in different states, it's often possible to work part-time after earning a certain number of credits. By substitute teaching, you'll not only give your resume a boost but also gain experience creating lesson plans and working with students in a classroom environment.

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Regent University

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South University

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