Health Education Jobs
job outlook training and requirements earnings
Health education is an occupational field with job opportunities in medical care settings, schools, public health departments, nonprofit organizations, and the private sector. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 51% of all health educators work in health care or social services, while an additional 23% work for the government. The National Health Education Standards are a series of benchmarks that pre-college students are expected to meet by grades 2,5, 8 and 12, and 40 states require health education to be incorporated into school curricula so those objectives are met.
In an educational setting such as a high school, health educators may prepare and distribute materials like reports, bulletins, photographs, and posters designed to help students understand health-related issues and the potential consequences of their behavioral choices. In a clinical setting like a hospital, health educators may give presentations and lead workshops designed to help individuals facing a specific health-related condition manage that condition more effectively, or they may train members of the hospital staff about how to interact better with such patients. If they work for the government, health educators may be charged with developing operational plans and policies necessary to achieve specific public health-related goals and objectives.
In 2008, 66,200 health educators were employed throughout the nation in a variety of different settings. That figure is expected to grow to 78,200 by 2018, an increase of 18%, giving individuals who pursue this line of work very favorable prospects for continuing employment.
Why is the health education field growing so quickly? It’s a response to the explosive growth of the health care industry itself, and the escalating cost of healthcare.
Health care is the most rapidly growing industry in the United States. Over 12% of the population, or 16 million people, work in health care today, compared to 1% of the population 50 years ago. Health care expenditures represent 16% of the nation’s gross domestic product – a figure that will grow to 20% by 2020, according to the government’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
This explosive growth has been fueled by two trends: first, by the amazing advances in medical technology that have taken place over the last 20 years and second by an ever-decreasing demand for healthcare services.
Insurance companies, employers, the government and other entities who foot a disproportionate amount of the healthcare bill have a vested interest in curbing healthcare expenditures. Increasingly medical researchers are finding links between illness and lifestyle choices. Smoking increases the risk of contracting lung cancer; spending long amounts of time in the sun increases the risk of developing skin cancers.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure: one of the most cost-effective means of controlling healthcare spending is encouraging people to take responsibility for their own wellbeing. Health education is key to the philosophy of preventive medicine which teaches people how to live healthier lives, and so avoid expensive treatments for disease. Simple expedients such as smoking cessation or wearing sunblock will dramatically decrease the incidence of lung cancer and skin cancer. It is the health educator’ job then to explain this information to the people who will benefit from it, and to help them plan an effective strategy for behavioral change.
Many other illnesses may not exhibit a behavioral component, but will have a more positive patient outcome if they’re detected early. A health educator is also charged with teaching people how to detect potential problems on their own.
Training and Requirements
Until relatively recently, health educators could come from a wide variety of educational backgrounds. These days, however, even entry level health education jobs require a bachelor’s degree from a health education program, or health education course work and a related degree in psychology, sociology or biology. Many health educators choose to continue their education after some time on the job, and go on to pursue masters degrees in education or public health. Some colleges and universities even offer masters degrees in health education.
The organization associated with the health education occupation is the American Association for Health Education (AAHE) which serves as both a professional organization and an advocacy group.
Health educators’ earnings depend upon the sector in which they are employed. Generally health educators earn the most in health care settings like hospitals and outpatient care centers. In 2009, the median salary for a health educator in the United States was $51,944.