Public Health

Do You Need a Master’s in Public Health to Become a Health Educator?

Do You Need a Master’s in Public Health to Become a Health Educator?
You don't usually need a Master of Public Health degree (MPH) to get a job as a health educator. That said, some health educator jobs—typically for the federal government, for state public health agencies, or in public school systems—may set the MPH as the minimum level of education required. Image from Unsplash
Christa Terry profile
Christa Terry October 29, 2019

Health teachers are health educators, but not all health educators are health teachers. Health educators also devise education policy, lead public education programs, conduct surveys, and counsel people seeking health services. If it teaches people to live healthier, a health educator might do it.

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When you become a health educator, your job will involve teaching people and groups about healthy behaviors and strategies that promote wellness. There’s a lot more to the job than just leading a classroom or community meeting, however. The field offers a variety of options, and the one you pursue will determine how, why, and where you work.

Your day-to-day responsibilities as a health educator will vary depending on your role. One day, you might talk to a group about safer sex and work on a smoking cessation initiative. The next, you could write a newsletter about healthy eating and planning a talk about the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption. Or, you may conduct a public survey—and then compile that data. Your main goal, regardless of where you work or your daily responsibilities, will be to help individuals and groups lead longer, healthier lives.

But do you need a master’s in public health to become a health educator? Learning more about what it takes can help you decide whether this is the right career for you. In this article, we’ll cover:

  • What does a health educator do?
  • Where do health educators work?
  • Educational commitment to become a health educator
  • Do you need a master’s in public health to become a health educator?
  • Becoming a certified health educator
  • Salary and career outlook for health educators
  • Why become a health educator?

What does a health educator do?

What health educators do depends on where they work and the stage of the health initiative they’re working on:

  • At the outset of an initiative, health educators might conduct research, collecting and analyzing information about the needs of communities and populations.
  • Once the research provides a clear picture of those needs, health educators may design programs to meet those needs and then seek funding to launch those programs.
  • Once a health initiative has been implemented, a health educator will monitor the program to evaluate whether it’s reaching the intended audience and how well it’s working. At that point, they might make changes to programs based on feedback. They may even decide that an initiative needs to be overhauled or replaced.

Throughout it all, a health educator typically collaborates with individuals, community advocates, and policymakers to remain informed and to ensure messaging is framed effectively.

Other tasks and responsibilities health educators take on include:

  • Creating materials, workshops, presentations, and events to teach people about health topics
  • Connecting individuals with health services or information specific to their needs
  • Creating or finding training programs for community health workers
  • Teaching people how to manage specific health conditions or meet specific health goals
  • Preparing and distributing educational materials for individuals or health professionals
  • Applying for grants to fund health education programs and programs concerned with health-related issues
  • Overseeing health education programs
  • Advocating for government policies that promote health
  • Designing and conducting public health surveys
  • Helping agencies determine the best way to decide what health education and promotion programs to launch in a community
  • Maintaining an up-to-date health education library that community agencies can access

In an interview with the StarTribune, Kathy Hedin, a Certified Health Education Specialist with Saint Paul-Ramsey County Public Health, describes her work as a health educator this way:

“I create documents and brochures for our programs. I speak at conferences on violence prevention and creating welcoming environments. I write curricula for guides to raising sexually healthy children and young people. I’m creating messages for a lot of different cultures, ethnicities, languages, and ages, working with people so I can better understand who they are and what they need.”

Health educator skills and competencies

An understanding of public health and healthcare issues is obviously essential in this role, but the most critical skills you’ll need to become a health educator are:

  • Analytical thinking
  • Communication
  • Creativity

Health educators have to be able not only to understand data and statistics but also to explain them in a way the public finds compelling. Everyone has heard that smoking kills, but that generic fact alone may not be enough to inspire someone to quit. Can you think of clever ways to prove to a reluctant quitter just how much damage smoking causes? Can you envision a toolkit full of strategies and resources that could make quitting easier for that longtime smoker?

When you become a healthcare educator, you’ll wear many hats: researcher, public speaker, teacher, writer, and advocate. To succeed in each of these roles requires cultural competence and a lot of empathy. You’ll need to understand why a person or population might engage in unhealthy or self-destructive behavior, and determine what motivations might convince them to change. Does the behavior spring from a lack of understanding? A cultural or social barrier? The answers will help you devise your approach to promoting healthier choices.


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Where do health educators work?

Health educators work in a variety of settings, including:

  • Government agencies
  • Social service agencies
  • Nonprofit organizations
  • Private corporations
  • Public schools
  • Colleges
  • Hospitals
  • Clinics
  • Doctors’ offices

Where you work may depend on the specialization you choose. Within the health educator field, there are numerous specializations:

  • Health teacher (requires a degree in education and a teaching license)
  • Healthcare information analyst (these professions address health issues related to clinical healthcare)
  • Academic policy advisor (involves a macro approach to health education)
  • Sexual health educator
  • Community health educator
  • Healthcare promotion specialist (experts in a particular public health issue)
  • Exercise specialist
  • Nurse educator (advanced practice RNs who serve as liaisons between health organizations and students)

Educational commitment to become a health educator

Health educators commonly have at least a bachelor’s degree, though what degree they hold varies. There are BS in health education programs at:

There are also health educators with bachelor’s degrees in health promotion, public health, community health, social work, and human services.

Your undergraduate major may actually be less important than the coursework you do. As you search for programs, look for those that give you not only the science and health background you need in this career but also the soft skills that will help you connect with those you serve. Some classes you might take when pursuing a BS in health education degree include:

  • Communication in Healthcare
  • Epidemiology
  • Grant Writing
  • Health Behavior Theory
  • Healthcare Administration
  • Healthcare Ethics & Law
  • Health Informatics
  • Health Promotion Planning
  • Health Research
  • Human Nutrition
  • Managing Health & Human Services
  • Principles of Health Education
  • Special Populations

Do you need a master’s in public health to become a health educator?

You don’t usually need a Master of Public Health degree (MPH) or doctorate to get a job as a health educator. Still, finishing graduate school can make you a much more attractive candidate when you’re looking for work. That said, some health educator jobs—typically for the federal government, for state public health agencies, or in public school systems—may set the MPH as the minimum level of education required.

To choose the right master’s degree program, consider your short- and long-term goals. If you want to become a health teacher, you’ll eventually need a master’s degree in education. In state and federal agencies, you may need a master’s degree in public health (with a community health education concentration), a master’s degree in community health, or a master’s degree in health promotion.

Keep in mind that getting a master’s degree or a doctorate in health education represents a significant commitment—usually two years or more, depending on whether you study full-time or part-time, on-campus or remotely. Don’t embark upon this educational path without thinking long and hard about whether the expense and the time investment will pay off.

A number of schools offer Master of Public Health degrees online. They include:

Becoming a certified health educator

Some, but not all, employers require that health educators hold the Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) credential or the Master Certified Health Education Specialist (MCHES) credential. These certifications are offered by the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing.

The CHES certification is for health educators at the start of their careers—anyone with a bachelor’s degree that included 25 semester hours of coursework related to health education can take the twice-yearly certification exam. They then have to complete 75 continuing education hours every five years to maintain that certification. The MCHES is for health educators with at least five years of professional experience in the field.

Salary and career outlook for health educators

Health educators earn about $46,080 per year, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Your career outlook should be good; overall employment of health educators is projected to grow by 11 percent by 2028, which is much faster than the average for all jobs. That growth may be driven by an increasing awareness that healthcare costs go way down when people have the knowledge and the skills to practice preventative care.

Why become a health educator?

This is a rewarding career, albeit not an especially lucrative one. People have various reasons for choosing jobs in the public health field, but in general, they are driven not by money but by a desire to help individual people lead healthier lives and to spread information that promotes health and well-being in more populations. When you become a health educator, you will be able to see how your work positively impacts people in the present and in the future.

For some community health workers, that’s enough of a reward, and the relatively low salary potential isn’t a problem. These are the people who earn a bachelor’s degree and then build careers as health education specialists. If you want to help people and make more money, however, the best route might be to stay in school. You could potentially earn your MPH, work as a health educator for a few years, and then go on to earn a doctorate in health education or a doctorate in public health before moving into a better-paying community health director role.

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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