Health educators play an important role in today’s public health sector, as well as in society as a whole. A main objective of public health educators is to teach people about healthy practices and behaviors that support individual health, as well as public wellness.
However, this teaching aspect is only part of the job. Public health educators may also collect data to learn about the specific health and wellness needs of certain communities and segments of the population. With this knowledge, health educators can help officials craft policies that work to address these needs, while also serving to connect the public to available health care resources.
Employment demand for public health educators is on the rise. Let’s take a closer examination of this key public health role, including the duties and responsibilities involved, and where professionals can find employment.
Public health educator role: An overview
Public health educators are health professionals who work to improve health and wellness awareness and education in their local area. While much of this role includes teaching and education, public health educators are also responsible for a range of other duties to support public health.
As the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics explains (BLS, 2019), public health educators also take part in work including:
- Analyzing the particular health needs of the community at large, or specific sections of the population in the region.
- Helping to create programs and resources to educate the public about health topics and best practices.
- Organizing events to publicize the availability of public health educational materials and resources.
- Educating people about public health practices, as well as the best ways to manage existing health issues or conditions.
- Assessing the success and effectiveness of the programs, materials, and resources they’ve helped to create and circulate.
- Providing outreach to the public, and helping to connect individuals in need with available health care services or educational materials.
- Supporting and leading training efforts for community health workers and other health professionals.
- Providing guidance and supervision for public health workers implementing programs to support public health education.
- Gathering data to discern and assess the particular health needs of a community, as well as to enhance and better support existing programs and health services.
- Offering support and advocacy to improve available health services, resources, and policies aimed at promoting and enhancing public health.
The role that public health educators serve, and the tasks they are responsible for, can differ depending on the industry in which health professionals work.
Public health educators vs. community health workers
While the role of public health educator is closely related to that of community health workers, these positions are different. As noted above, public health educators may even work closely with community health workers, particularly to provide training and education.
However, community health workers are much more involved in data gathering and analysis. These health professionals work to have a deep understanding of the needs and public health challenges in a specific community. They may also directly help individual citizens in overcoming barriers to public health programs, such as those for food or housing assistance.
“Community health workers share information with health educators and health care providers so that health educators can create new programs or adjust existing programs or events to better suit the needs of the community,” the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics stated (BLS, 2019).
There are also similar public health professional roles in:
- The business and nonprofit health education sector
- The academic and university health education industry
- Government and health departments
- The general health care sector
As the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing (NCHEC, 2017) noted, these similar roles all require professionals to earn their Certified Health Education Specialist certification. This type of certification can open doors to public health education roles including health counselor, health marketing coordinator, curriculum development specialist, public health inspector, or medical resource manager.
Where do public health educators work?
Currently, the largest number of public health educators work in the government sector, with 24% of health professionals serving in this capacity in 2018. According to BLS data, many public health educators also work in state, local, and private hospitals (23%). Other employers of these public health professionals include:
- Religious institutions, as well as organizations that take part in grantmaking, civic, and other professional duties (8%)
- Individual and family services (8%)
- Outpatient care centers (7%)
While most health educators’ daily working environment is an office setting, they may also travel away from the office to host or help support public health programs, events, or meetings.
Different duties in different sectors
The responsibilities and efforts that public health educators take part in vary by industry. For example, a public health educator operating in a health care facility will likely consult directly with patients. A public health educator employed in the higher education field, on the other hand, may help with the creation of campus policies to support improved wellness and health.
Let’s take a closer look at the role of public health educator, and particularly the tasks and duties involved in different employment industries:
In a private business setting, public health educators’ work revolves around the needs of the company’s employees, as opposed to that of the public community at large. With a main goal of improving the health and wellness of employees, public health educators will help business owners create policies and an overarching culture based on healthy behaviors. Public health educators might institute policies or provide education to help a business’s employees quit smoking, lose weight, or to promote other areas of health. They may also recommend changes to the working environment at the business, such as establishing smoke-free areas, for instance.
Health educators in this industry will help develop and institute programs ― along with complementary public health materials ― for the organization to circulate among the community. They also educate nonprofit decision-makers about the best ways their nonprofit can support public health in the local area. Public health educators in this sector will help nonprofit stakeholders obtain funding to support public health programs, awareness, and education. As the BLS explained, the efforts of health educators working in nonprofits are very specific to the needs of the organization and the community it serves.
Public health educators can also work in academia, within colleges or universities. In this industry, public health educators focus on the challenges facing the institutions’ students and staff members. As such, public health professionals will create programs and materials aimed at the public health and wellness needs of young adults. Common public health issues covered here include smoking, alcohol use, and safe sex practices. This role also sees public health educators working with university administrators to create campus-wide policies that help promote improved health and wellness.
Public health departments
Currently, most public health educators work in public health departments of state and local government. This is a popular career path for students studying public health. In this working environment, public health educators are responsible for developing and spearheading public health campaigns to help educate and support the local community. These campaigns may tackle topics like emergency preparedness, the importance of immunization, nutrition tips, or other concepts. Public health educators in this industry are also responsible for creating materials to support these campaigns, as well as to be used by other public health professionals and officials. During emergency or crisis situations, public health educators may represent the spokesperson for the department, and help provide information to the public and local media. As the BLS noted, public health educators in government departments may also be used as an educational resource for local officials and help craft public policies. Responsibilities in this area may also include overseeing grants, as well as the programs that this funding supports.
Health care facilities
Public health educators in the health care sector will typically work closely with patients and their families. In these settings, health educators are sometimes known as “patient navigators,” as they can serve to help patients be aware and educated about their health service and insurance options. Public health educators may also help connect patients with other outside resources, like support groups or home health services that can support their recovery. In this role, public health educators are also responsible for educating patients about their diagnosis or health issue, as well as the treatment procedures they will go through. In addition to working with individual patients, health educators in the health care industry may also create and institute public health surveys to better understand local health issues and develop programs to address them.
The role of public health educator revolves around some key themes and factors ― educating stakeholders, patients, and the public, as well as helping to create and connect those in need to available resources. However, responsibilities can vary depending on the type of organization in which public health educators work.
Salary expectations for public health educators
Similar to the job role and responsibilities, the annual earning potential for public health educators differs by industry. According to current data, the median annual wage for all occupations in public health education was $54,220 as of May 2018. The lowest 10% of earners in this role had a median annual wage of $32,030, and the highest 10% took home $98,530 in 2018.
Broken down according to top industry employers, public health educators earned these annual wages in 2018:
- State, local, and private hospitals: $64,830
- Government departments: $56,130
- Outpatient care centers: $51,780
- Religious, civic, professional, and other organizations: $48,510
- Individual and family services: $41,330 (BLS, 2019)
How to become a public health educator
Like any professional position, there are certain skills and capabilities public health educators need to succeed in their roles. Some employers require that candidates have at least a bachelor’s level degree in public health or a similar area to be considered. This is typical of an entry-level health educator position.
However, many employers, particularly those looking for candidates to fill more advanced roles, require applicants to have a master’s degree in public health. As the BLS pointed out, it’s becoming more common for employers to prefer candidates who have master’s degrees, and even doctoral degrees.
In addition to a strong higher education background, where the program often includes real-world experience through an internship, some employers also require public health educators to be certified. Health professionals can gain their Certified Health Education Specialist credential by passing an exam administered by the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing (BLS, 2019).
As the NCHEC noted, there are seven main competencies covered within the certification exam for health education specialists. These include:
- Assessing needs, resources, and capacity for health education and promotion
- Planning health education and promotion
- Implementing health education and promotion
- Conducting an evaluation and other research related to health education and promotion
- Administering and managing health education and promotion efforts
- Acting as a health education/promotion resource person
- Communicating, promoting, and advocating for health, health education, and promotion efforts, as well as the profession of public health educator
Experience and knowledge in these areas can help health professionals be prepared for their certification exam. In addition, these skills will enable them to be more effective and successful in a health education role.
Public health educators: Taking the next step
The job outlook for public health educators is very positive and is growing at a much faster than average rate. BLS data projects 11% growth in employment opportunities for trained public health educators from 2018 to 2028, with more than 14,000 positions needing qualified candidates during this time.
One of the best ways to prepare for a role as a public health educator, no matter which sector professionals choose to work in, is with a Master of Public Health degree. The online Master of Public Health program at Regis College School of Health Sciences was designed with the needs of working professionals in mind. It is ideal for those who already hold bachelor’s degrees.
The Regis College online Master of Public Health offers the Health Policy and Management concentration. This specialized area of study provides students with the skills and experience they need to analyze current health trends, improve public health and wellness, and help create public policies at the state, local, and federal level. Students also learn how to best mitigate public health epidemics, disease, and other health issues, and can help manage care delivery for certain populations or communities.
To find out more about the role of public health educator and how the online Master of Public Health degree can prepare you for this career, check out our website and fill out a form to connect with one of our Regis College enrollment advisors today.