Are you a people person? Do you have the ability to get along well with people? Do you enjoy helping people? Do you have a passion for health and wellness? If so, you should consider a career in health coaching.
This new health professional role is taking off due to the increased awareness of the public for the need to work on being healthy. If you have a strong desire to help others succeed and achieve ideal health, this rapidly growing field may be a good career choice for you.
What is Health Coaching?
The field of health coaching is relatively new, branching off from the already established field of wellness coaching. Health coaches are client/patient advocates, working with people to help them improve their lifestyles for the better, including making healthier choices and becoming more physically active. These health specialists educate people on proper nutrition, like what and when to eat, as well as how to exercise and what types they should doing. This advocacy goes beyond fitness and nutrition, also involving behavorial modifications in the areas of sleep, stress management, drinking and smoking.
Health coaches can work with those who have medical issues, such as heart disease or diabetes, helping them after their diagnosis to changing their lifestyles to help save their lives by preventing further complications. They can also work with otherwise healthy people that want to become more healthy to feel better about themselves and prevent disease. Furthermore, it’s possible to specialize in areas such as smoking cessation, holistic health, stress relieving strategies or working with patients suffering from chronic illness.
Health coaches can work for themselves (recruiting and managing their own client base), or they can be hired by healthcare facilities (hospitals, private practices, etc.) or even business corporations. As seen with the rise of corporate wellness programs, companies want healthier employees to increase productivity and lessen health insurance claims which explains why health coaches are becoming more and more employed or consulted in this work setting.
What Do Health Coaches Do?
A large part of what health coaches do is developing and implementing weight and stress management plans based around increased physical activity, proper nutrition and healthy lifestyle changes. They evaluate their patient’s/client’s current habits and then make suggestions and recommendations for a healthier lifestyle. This includes creating highly personalized goals and action plans based upon their specific needs and helping them track their progress.
For example, health coaches can consult with their patients/clients on integrated approaches to weight loss, also acting to motivate them and keep them motivated in achieving a healthier weight. They also work with their patients/clients to develop improved nutrition plans and eating habits, especially for those who require more strict nutritional guidelines due to health reasons, such as diabetes, heart disease, or gastrointestinal complications such as celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or Crohn’s disease. The health coach determines their dietary needs/restrictions then helps educate them on how to go about making the necessary changes and follow specific diet and meal plans.
Regarding stress management, health coaches teach their patients/clients on healthy ways to relieve stress such as meditation, yoga and positive behavioral changes.
Health coaches typically make themselves very accessible to their patients/clients through in person, phone, text message, and email communications. Health coaches will often go food shopping with their clients to teach them on-the-spot how to make healthier food choices. They can also join them at the gym, or to have a collaborative meeting with a personal trainer on how to work with the client in developing a personalized plan, which once developed, the health coach will help keep them on track through motivation and encouragement.
Requirements To Become a Health Coach
Currently, due to no state or national accrediting organization governing the practice of health coaching, there is no set education or licensure requirements to become a health coach. However, there are several recognized health coaching certifications available that can better qualify you over others.
As a general rule of thumb, the more education and credentials you have, the better your chances of being hired and earning a higher salary. Having experience in the healthcare or fitness fields or a degree in any health-related subject along with being a certified wellness coach will help you greatly. Though to reiterate, there is no standardized certificate or degree that is required by law to practice health coaching.
Popular Health Coach Certification Programs
National Society of Health Coaches – Online
The National Society of Health Coaches (NSHC) offers two certifications which are founded upon evidence-based coaching: the ‘Certified Health Coach’ certification available only to credentialed medical or allied health professionals and the ‘Certificate of Completion’ for non-credentialed or unlicensed allied health professionals. The ‘Certificate of Completion’ is not an actual health coach certification, rather proof the individual is knowledgeable in evidence-based health coaching. NSHC’s health coach certification program includes various learning materials and is an independent study that takes approximately 70 hours of preparation before sitting for the exam.
American Council on Exercise – Online
The American Council on Exercise (ACE) offers the only health coach certification that is currently accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). This program is geared towards fitness professionals who want to advance their knowledge and ability to help people positively change lifestyle behaviors by integrating exercise, proper nutrition and fundamental health education into their lives. As an independent study, ACE offers two learning packages taking around 12 weeks of preparation time. You can also prepare for the ACE Health Coach certification exam without the official study materials and purchase your exam seat only.
ACE Health Coach Certification Requirements:
- Current CPR and AED certification AND
- NCCA-accredited certification in fitness or related field OR
- Associate’s degree or higher
Duke Integrative Medicine – Durham, N.C. and online
Duke offers their Integrative Health Coach Professional Training Program, which includes clinically research-based education. It’s actually divided into two separate programs – the ‘Foundation’ and ‘Certification’. The ‘Foundation’ program takes several month to complete and consists of experiential learning sessions that are held on Duke’s campus. This program is a prerequisite for taking the ‘Certification’ program and culminates in a ‘Certificate of Completion’ – which is not to be confused with Duke’s actual Integrative Health Coach certification. The ‘Certification’ program, which awards recognition as a certified integrative health coach, takes several months to complete and is primarily distance learning-based – consisting of education online and over the phone.
‘Foundation’ Program Requirements:
- Bachelor’s degree or higher OR
- Medical/allied health professional with at least 3 years of working experience
‘Certification’ Program Requirements:
- Successful completion of the ‘Foundation’ course
Institute for Integrative Nutrition – Online
This is a year-long online course that will help students become learned in all aspects of health coaching. After program completion students are prepared to become a Certified Health Coach through the American Association of Drugless Practitioners.
The nationwide average salary for a health coach is around $50,000 according to Glassdoor.com. In certain states such as California and New York, the average income for health coaches can range between $60,000 – $70,000 per year. Health coaches taking on an entrepreneurial or business role may make anywhere between $50 – $200 per hour, more so the higher range if your a credentialed medical or allied health professional.
As the public becomes more and more health conscious, there is a large push towards making lifestyle changes that promote long-term health and well-being. This increased awareness by healthcare professionals and by individuals that overall lifestyle change is necessary for improved health has resulted in the expansion of the need for health and wellness coaches, either working independently or working for healthcare facilities and private medical practices.
While there is no official job growth rate specifically outlined for Health Coaches, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts Health Educators – who share similar job roles – to experience a 37 percent increase in employment opportunities over the next decade.