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Definition and Nature of the Field
Health education is an applied field of study that incorporates elements of biology, psychology, sociology and medical sciences in an effort to enhance the quality of life for individuals. Teaching people how to maintain and improve their health is the goal of health education. The process includes assisting people to make informed decisions about factors that can impact their health. This is accomplished by promoting the development of peoples’ attitudes, knowledge and skills regarding their health behavior.
Health education can be performed in a variety of school or community settings. School health educators might be employed at the elementary, middle, or high school levels. As teachers, their primary daily interaction is with school age children, however, they also work with adults (e.g., colleagues, parents, and various community members). Community health educators might work in medical care facilities, or community based agencies (e.g., a local hospital or chapter of the American Red Cross). They may develop a wide range of health programs for people of all ages or they may specialize in one area of health (e.g., injury prevention, nutrition, or substance use and abuse) with one specific population.
Undergraduate health education students’ program of study includes courses in both content information and in professional preparation. Most programs offer some course work in the following areas of content: aging, disease prevention, injury prevention, mental health, nutrition, personal health, sexuality, stress management and substance use and abuse. The professional preparation sequence is designed to assist students in developing skills they need to carry out their responsibilities once they are employed. This part of the students’ training varies depending on whether they have chosen school health education or community health education.
School health education students have to complete an undergraduate degree that will lead to teacher certification. Each state has specific teacher certification requirements. Students are encouraged to make sure the college or university program of their interest helps them to complete the proper requirements. The school health students’ professional preparation often includes the following types of courses: educational foundations, instructional planning, curriculum design and assessment, classroom management, clinical fieldwork experiences, and finally student teaching.
Graduating from an accredited or approved undergraduate program is important for community health education students. This is especially valuable if students are interested in earning the professional certification that is nationally recognized in the community health field. This credential is applied for after graduation and involves successfully completing a qualifying exam. The community health students’ professional preparation often includes the following types of courses: health education foundations, program development, health e education marketing, biometry, worksite health promotion, grant writing, and an internship experience.
Related Work Experience
It will be valuable for students interested in becoming health educators to gain experience interacting with groups of people. This can be accomplished by focusing on a particular age group or various age groups. Activities that potentially help students obtain experience include: baby sitting, tutoring, working with after school, youth sports or summer camp programs, volunteering at nursing homes, hospitals, or community agencies.
Once school health undergraduate degree requirements have been met, graduates may seek employment in a public or private school district teaching elementary, middle, or high school learners. It is important to note that often school districts look for professionals who are also certified to teach physical education and this will require additional training. Today, many students are deciding to double major in school health and physical education so that they are more marketable when they graduate.
After becoming employed, school health educators are required to continue their professional development to maintain their teaching certification. Once again, each state has specific standards for this process that need to be followed. Some school health educators choose to remain teaching at the P-12 level for their entire career, while others will transition into related fields (e.g., counseling, administration, or higher education).
Students completing a community health undergraduate degree may find employment in a variety of settings (e.g., community based agencies, public health departments, non-profit organizations, or hospitals). Many agencies and organizations are requiring their employees successfully complete and maintain the Certified Health Education Specialist credential. More information regarding this can be obtained from the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing