Exploring this Job
One of the best ways to explore this field is to try your hand at communicating health information to others. Learn about a health-related topic (cancer prevention, stopping the spread of an infectious disease, etc.) and create a 500-word presentation that educates the public about the issue. Give the presentation to your health class or to your family, and ask for feedback on information that you conveyed and the effectiveness of your presentation. After receiving feedback, streamline your presentation until it is perfect. Then present the information at a school health fair or in another setting to build your skills.
Talk to health educators about their careers. Many will be happy to discuss what they like and dislike about the field. Perhaps you could even job shadow an educator as he or she meets with the public, gives presentations, and conducts research.
Check out the Web sites of colleges and universities that offer degrees in health education and promotion to learn about typical classes, internship opportunities, and other education-related topics. Visit https://www.healtheddirectory.org for a list of schools.
The majority of health educators work in health care facilities, colleges and universities, local and state public health departments, nonprofits, and private businesses.
At hospitals, offices of physicians, nursing homes, and other health care facilities, health educators often work one-on-one with patients or with their families. Some educators, who are known as patient navigators, help patients and their families understand and navigate the admissions process (at hospitals and nursing homes), the private and public insurance programs that are available, and the resources (home health agencies, rehab facilities, support groups, etc.) that exist to help them receive medical care and pay for it. Other health educators develop and administer surveys that seek to identify major health issues and concerns (cancer caused by high amounts of pollution, opioid abuse, vaccine hesitancy) of the surrounding communities and try to develop programs to address these issues. They also organize and run events such as health fairs, blood drives, and even teach classes that prepare women for childbirth or teach new parents to properly install a car seat.
At colleges and universities, health educators develop and implement evidence-based health education programs that address topics and issues that affect young adults, such as smoking cessation, substance abuse, reproductive health, sexually transmitted diseases, sexual violence, eating disorders mental health challenges and general emotional well-being, physical fitness, and proper nutrition. They may train students to be peer educators and supervise their work with other students. Others may work as health education internship coordinators or teach health education courses.
In state and local public health departments, health educators create public health campaigns on topics such as the importance of immunizations and masking during infectious disease outbreaks, stress management, sexually transmitted diseases, and mental health; manage grants and grant-funded programs that have been established to improve the health of the public; serve as the point of contact with the media regarding public health issues; and conduct research regarding issues such as aging, the spread and control of infectious diseases, and other topics.
At a nonprofit, health educators write press releases, draft social media posts, and develop programs that educate the public about specific health issues. Some educate members of the media and government officials on the steps that can be taken to improve overall public health or address a specific issue that is affecting a local community (such as the presence of a highly polluted Superfund site near the community that is likely responsible for higher rates of cancer than in surrounding areas). Some apply for grants from government agencies and nonprofit organizations that are used to further their organization’s public health initiatives.
At corporations and other businesses, health educators work to identify and address common health problems (obesity, high prevalence of workplace injuries, etc.) that affect worker health and performance. They educate workers about good health habits, design incentive programs that reward employees for stopping smoking or meeting fitness metrics, recommend the creation of smoke-free areas or the installation of vending machines with healthier food options or the introduction of an on-site fitness center to improve employee health.