Becoming a Community Health Educator: Salary & Job Description

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Get the truth about a community health educator's salary, training requirements and career prospects. Read the job description and see the pros and cons of becoming a community health educator.
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A Community Health Educator Career: Pros and Cons

As a community health education, you would have the opportunity to help others lead healthier lives by developing, conducting and evaluating programs for the benefit of targeted populations within a community. Consider the pros and cons of a community health educator career to determine if this would be the right career move for you.

Pros of a Community Health Educator Career
Faster than average job growth (19% in 2012-2022)*
Higher than average salary potential (Average salary of $55,000 in 2014)*
Several employment options available (community organizations, public agencies, schools, healthcare)*
Variety in daily activities**

Cons of a Community Health Educator Career
May require working on weekends or evenings*
A graduate degree may be needed for some jobs (particularly government or leadership positions)*
Some positions may require certification and continuing education*
Could be challenging to work with individuals/groups who aren't ready to make healthy changes*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **O*Net Online.

Essential Career Information

Job Description

Community health educators may work on a number of programs, including those on specific diseases, health conditions or other issues, such as domestic violence. They assess the needs of a population group and develop programs in response to those needs, such as planning health fairs or health screenings for the public.

Conducting educational classes is also a central part of the job. Another important component of working in health education is program evaluation, including collecting data and determining the program's effectiveness.

Health educators can also do community outreach for nonprofit organizations, such as establishing community partnerships and lobbying for their causes. Because of the nature of their work, traveling to various locations within the community is to be expected.

Educators are also found in corporations, healthcare facilities, government agencies and schools. Although those working in these settings can have somewhat different responsibilities, many still do work in the community. This is particularly the case for those working for government public health agencies or healthcare facilities.

Salary and Career Prospects

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), health educators earned a mean annual wage of about $55,000 in 2014 (www.bls.gov). In 2014, most educators worked in healthcare settings, followed by government agencies and family services centers. The BLS noted that the projected 19% job growth for health educators may be due to the push to prevent health problems and lower healthcare costs.

Training and Other Requirements

Training and Other Skills

A bachelor's degree is the standard requirement for entering this field. Health education programs provide the public health skills needed to perform needs assessments, develop effective education materials and evaluate programs. In addition to health courses, many programs include an internship. This can be an important consideration when choosing a school because many employers look for prior experience when hiring health educators.

Some schools offering public health or health education programs allow students to complete a concentration, such as community health or worksite health promotion. If you are interested in a state or federal government positions, you may need a master's degree.

Beyond formal training, health educators need the following skills:

  • Math and analytical skills for performing data analysis
  • Strong written and oral communication skills for creating programs, writing reports and teaching classes
  • Interpersonal skills for working with colleagues, community partners and diverse population groups

What Real Employers Look For

Employers expect community health educators to have relevant experience and at least a bachelor's degree in health education or a related area. Certification as a health education specialist is also common among employers' preferences. For more insight into what real employers are looking for, review the following postings for jobs available in May 2012.

  • A Cleveland community organization that provides domestic violence/child abuse advocacy and prevention services needs a health educator. The job involves speaking in schools and other community settings about teen dating. The educator will establish relationships with local schools, perform program evaluations and serve on community committees as needed. Candidates should have a bachelor's degree or at last 5 years of relevant experience, while certification as a health educator is preferred.
  • A community health educator is needed in a Cincinnati hospital. This part-time day position involves helping community members overcome barriers to having good health. The educator will conduct classes, assist with health screenings, work with community partners and help with program evaluation. Under a nurse's supervision, the educator will also work with clients and develop action plans. Candidates should have a bachelor's degree and 1-2 years of experience in health education. The employer prefers an educator who is bilingual and certified.
  • An Oregon government agency needs a public health educator to work full-time. This position focuses on maternal and child health education, as well as developing educational materials, creating programs, conducting training sessions and participating on committees. Candidates should have a bachelor's degree in health or education and 3 years of relevant experience. A health or education master's degree with 1 year of relevant experience can be substituted. For candidates with a bachelor's degree in another field, they must have 3 years of leadership experience in health services.

How to Stand Out in the Field

Certification

Although certification or licensure isn't required to work as a health educator, many employers prefer to hire candidates credentialed by the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing (NCHEC). To be eligible for the certified health education specialist (CHES) credential, you must have a bachelor's or graduate degree in health education.

If you have a degree in another field, you must verify completion of at least 25 semester hours (or 37 quarter hours) in health education. The NCHEC also offers the master certified health education specialist (MCHES) advanced credential to those with 5 years of work experience in the field. To maintain the CHES or MCHES credential, you must complete 75 continuing education hours every 5 years.

Additional Courses

Beyond certification, you may want to consider taking foreign language courses as electives while you're in a formal training program. This could be particularly relevant for jobs where you'll work with diverse populations in the community. According to the BLS, foreign language training - as well as human development and psychology coursework - may give you an edge when searching for a job.

Alternate Career Options

Healthcare Social Worker

If you're open to alternate career options that allow you to work one-on-one with patients, you may want to look into the healthcare social work field. Healthcare social workers coordinate services for patients and their families so that they can better manage their health problems. These social workers also educate other healthcare professionals about the way health conditions can influence patients psychologically.

Some entry-level positions may require only a bachelor's degree, but a master's degree in social work is generally necessary for healthcare positions. State licensure of certification is required to practice as a clinical social worker.

Healthcare social workers earned a mean wage of about $51,000, according to 2011 BLS data. The BLS also predicted a 34% increase in employment for healthcare social workers, which may be due to the substantial senior population in the United States. The salary and career prospects are appealing, but you may need to handle stressful cases at times, including working with individuals who have serious illnesses.

Dietician

If you're particularly interested in nutrition, becoming a registered dietician (RD) could be a good fit. As nutritional experts, RDs develop eating plans based on their assessment of clients' health needs. Some dietitians work in healthcare facilities and may work with patients diagnosed with certain health conditions, such as hypertension.

Management dieticians, on the other hand, work in healthcare or corporate settings and oversee food programs for entire facilities. Working as a community dietician may be especially appealing if you're looking for a job similar to a health educator. These RDs educate groups about proper nutrition and work in public health agencies or other organizations. As with most healthcare-related occupations, having patience and sensitivity is important for working with difficult or stressed clients.

To get into this line of work, you'll need a bachelor's degree in nutrition, dietetics or a similar field. Completing an internship during or after the formal training program is necessary. Licensure is required in most states and dietitians can often fulfill this requirement by obtaining the RD credential, which is offered through the Commission on Dietetic Registration.

Increased emphasis on preventing health problems is helping to drive the fast job growth of dieticians, which is projected at 20% for 2010-2020. The BLS reported in 2011 that the mean annual wage was about $55,000.

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