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How to Become a Health Coach: Best Online Degrees & Certification

Learn how to become a health coach like this graduate

A health coach can have a profound impact on someone’s overall wellbeing and happiness. This career takes dedication to others, a persistent belief in the importance of personal health, and a commitment to motivating others so they can reach their goals.

But it also takes knowledge. Knowledge of biology, anatomy, diet, and many other issues that are important to our health and happiness. While you may have the inherent qualities to make an excellent health coach (persistence, caring, etc.), you still need an education.

A health coach program from a leading online institution can help you become one of the finest health coaching professionals in the country…maybe even the world!

What is Health Coaching?

The main task of a health coach is to guide and support people in their personal health. That sounds fairly simple, but it can actually take many different forms. A health coach, also known as a “health education specialist” by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, will work with individuals (and on occasion groups or communities) to identify health concerns and create programs, information, and plans that teach people about important health topics.

These professionals will evaluate the effectiveness of certain programs and help identify health services that can be beneficial. On a personal level, they may provide one-on-one training and consultation and find educational materials that help with a person’s unique situation.

A health coach, it should be remembered, is not a medical professional. However, they are essentially a personal cheerleader and guide in a person’s health journey. They help people implement lifestyle changes that promote better health. The specific support, guidance, and encouragement will depend on the goals and health needs of a client. However, they might include helping someone:

  • Stop smoking
  • Reduce stress
  • Improve nutrition
  • Sleep better
  • Start exercising
  • Reduce blood pressure or cholesterol
  • Manage weight

All of these tasks, and more, are typical health coaching duties. As you can see, they do quite a lot to help people live healthier lives. Many coaches work with clients though an in-person, face-to-face setting. But their services can also be delivered through video conversations, phone calls, and even emails.

Regardless of the specific goal, a health coach provides many advantages to their clients. They help maintain accountability, encourage progress, and provide unconditional support. For this reasons, there will likely be a large demand in the coming years.

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How to Become a Health Coach: The Step-by-Step Process

Health coaching is not a medical profession like nursing or being a physician, but it does require a fair amount of college education. You’ll need to complete some kind of degree program for the best career opportunities.

In general, the process for how to become a certified health coach looks something like this:

  1. Earn a degree (associate, bachelor's, or master's)
  2. Get certified to boost credentials (Health coach certification online is possible.)
  3. Start working & gain experience
  4. Maintain certification

Health Coach Training & Education Options

While it is possible to work as a health and wellness coach with a certificate or an associate’s degree, most employers will prefer that you have at least a bachelor’s degree. A four-year degree will offer the best job prospects.

The most common degree options to begin this career are related to health education or health promotion. These programs help you understand the theories and methods used in the health sciences, although they are not medical degrees.

One possible program could be a bachelor’s degree in health science. This type of education will teach you to analyze health and illness issues, and use ethical principals to provide effective leadership within a variety of settings, including clinical and non-clinical locations. The curriculum will likely include anatomy, physiology, chemistry, nutrition, and other disciplines that are important to health and wellbeing.

There are also master’s degrees that best prepare you to become a health and wellness coach. These programs offer a more detailed look at the issues of health and wellbeing, helping students gain a stronger understanding for this important career. A master’s will not only include scientific principles, but also the social, communication, and management aspects of the career. It’s not enough to know a lot about health, you have to know how to convey these issues to your clients to reach the best outcomes.

Classes in these programs may include advanced coaching techniques, foundations of healthy lifestyles, and management in coaching, which will help you become a health coach that is effective in delivering the best service.

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Many institutions offer post-graduate certificates that focus specifically on health and wellness coaching. Completed after a master’s or doctorate, these programs can greatly enhance your skills as a professional in health coaching. A post-graduate certificate is simply a short program that delivers information and skills specific to this career. They usually take about a year to complete and encompass somewhere around nine credit hours. They are highly specific to the career of a health coach, helping you complete certification programs.

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Education is an essential part of your career. But once you complete these programs, you’ll likely need to complete certification. This is not a requirement, but it can boost your health coach career options.

Exactly how long it takes to become a health coach will depend on the education you choose. If you complete an associate’s degree, you can likely start working in about two years. However, a bachelor’s degree will take about four years, and a master’s will add two years. The time it takes is often an important consideration.

Certification Process

It’s essential that you understand the role of licensing and certification for this career, as well as the health coach requirements by state. Health coach certification programs can open new opportunities and create the potential for a higher salary.

Certification is an important part of your career. This process not only makes you a better job candidate, for many positions it may be legally required. Health coach laws by state will vary, but you should expect your health coach curriculum to prepare you for testing.

Some employers will require you to have certification to be a holistic health coach, which can be obtained through various organizations such as the Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) or the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing. The National Society of Health Coaches also provides health coaching certification options.

Two of the most prestigious and recognized certifications are offered by the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and the National Board for Health & Wellness Coaching (NBHWC).

In order to apply for ICF’s Associate Certified Coach (ACC) credential, a minimum synchronous 60-hour educational training program is required. A post-bachelor or post-master’s certificate education typically fulfills this credit hour requirement. When vetting potential schools, ensure that their program fulfills curriculum requirements if you intend to apply for this certification. Maryland University of Integrative Health’s Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Health and Wellness Coaching is one online program that is approved by ICF.

National Board Certified Health & Wellness Coaches (NBC-HWCs) are credentialed by the NBHWC and represent the profession’s highest standard. This credential is based on extensive research and the training, education, and assessment of coaches who attended an NBHWC-approved school that meets specific criteria. To become certified with the NBHWC, students must graduate from a NBHWC approved training program, hold either an associate’s degree or higher OR 4,000 hours work experience in any field), complete 50 health and wellness coaching sessions, and pass the HWC Certifying Examination. The HWC Certifying Examination was developed by NBHWC in conjunction with the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME). Individuals who pass this exam will earn the title of National Board Certified Health & Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC). Maryland University of Integrative Health’s Master of Arts in Health and Wellness Coaching is one online program that is approved by this board.

If you plan on working for a state or local government, or in the community, you’ll likely need specific certification. Again, laws by state are different, so you need to talk with your state board of health, human services, or nursing to see the requirements in your area so you can become a certified coach in your state. As a certified wellness coach, you will have the chance to earn more money so the time and financial investment is worth the effort.

Health Coach Career

The career can be many things to many people. The term “health coach,” while sounding simple, can become all too complicated. Understanding the differences can be a little confusing, as there are no rules or regulations that define the careers. Unlike medical professionals, which have highly defined, rigid roles and positions (RN, CNP, physician, etc.), the types of health coaches are more fluid, with different definitions depending on who you ask.

However, you can find some specific types. The most common is a basic health coach, who acts as a supportive mentor, helping to set and meet health goals for their clients. Another type is a holistic health coach, who tends to use a more integrative approach, focusing on diet, lifestyle changes, and mental wellbeing to create better health. (Some would argue that a health coach and a holistic health coach are the same, while others separate them into different types.) Again, there is little consensus on the different types of jobs.

This career path could also include roles as a wellness health coach. Wellness coaches tend to focus on aspects such as physical, social, spiritual, and emotional issues to help their clients. Another type is a primal or “paleo” health coach, which focuses on evolutionary issues to create better health outcomes.

Pros & Cons

All jobs have their positives and negatives. This career is no different. Let’s start with the negatives. As a health coach, you will face numerous challenges and frustrations. Despite your best efforts, clients may not fully accept your advice, and may not follow your directions. Also, it can be hard to convince people that your work can help in their wellness journey, which can create a daily frustration.

But there are positives. When people succeed in their health goals, when they start to feel better, lose weight, quit smoking, or improve their nutrition, you’ll feel a sense of pride that is hard to find in other careers. You can wake every day knowing that your work has the potential to improve someone’s life; this feeling can exceed any paycheck.

Health Coach Salary

While the BLS, one of the most respected resources for salary information, does not list “health coaches” per se, they do provide information on “health education specialists” which are, essentially, the same.

According to their information, the median salary for these professionals in March of 2020 was $56,500. For perspective, the median American salary for all professions was $41,950, so this is a career that brings a strong salary. There is even potential for higher salaries. The BLS says that the top 10% of health education specialists was $70,790.

There are other resources of information when you are searching for the salary of a holistic health coach. Glassdoor, for example, says that the average “base pay” is $46,178, while Salary.com states that the salary range is $40,940 to $55,309.

Different areas will have varying salaries. The BLS has found that the highest-paying region is actually the District of Columbia, where health educators enjoy a median salary of $97,390. In Georgia these professionals have a median salary of $93,580, good for second place and highest among all states. Maryland ($82,080), Rhode Island ($76,730), and California ($70,230) complete the top five.

Job Outlook

Job outlook for people who complete wellness coach certifications is strong. According the the BLS, the career of a health education specialist is expected to grow by 11% between 2019 and 2029. This growth will be driven by an effort to improve health before it becomes a significant and costly medical issue.

A greater focus on preventative care should improve the job prospects for these professionals. So while the overall pay may not be the highest among all careers, there is a strong chance that you’ll be able to find work. Especially if you work in one of the areas where health coaching is common.

Where Do Health Coaches Work?

Health education specialists are hired in all corners of the country, but it appears that certain states have more than others. By total numbers, the larger states naturally hold the most job opportunities. California, New York, Texas, Florida, and Pennsylvania have the most health educators, according to the BLS.

But if you really want to understand the issue of where the best job options are, it helps to look at the overall employment per 1,000 jobs, which is another data set provided by the BLS. In this case, New Mexico is actually at the top, at they have 1.13 health educators per 1,000 jobs. Rounding out the top 5 is Vermont (1.07), Maryland (0.87), Maine (0.86), and the District of Columbia (0.810).

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Whether you want to earn a degree or try out this profession with a certificate, online education can provide a convenient pathway forward into a career where you’ll be changing lives every day!

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