With an increasing interest in health and wellness, many are turning to trained professionals to help them reach their health goals. These healthcare professionals are called health coaches (HCs). If health is of interest to you, you may be wondering how to become a health coach.
First, let’s understand what health coaches do exactly. HCs are client/patient advocates forming ongoing, collaborative relationships with people to help them improve their lifestyles for the better. These health specialists educate their clients on how to make healthier food choices (like what and when to eat), how to become more physically active, and how to improve their mindset around health.
But, that’s not all – the advocacy of health coaches goes beyond fitness and nutrition, they also work with clients on behavioral modifications. They can help clients with sleep, stress management, drinking and smoking and any other daily habits that can impact health. The ability to help people improve their health is an appealing career path for many, but there are specific health coach requirements that must be met before practicing in this growing field.
- 1 Health Coach Requirements
- 2 Work Settings for Health Coaches
- 3 Duties of a Health Coach
- 4 Health Coach Salary
- 5 Job Outlook for Health Coaches
Health Coach Requirements
Currently there is no state or national accrediting organization governing the practice of health coaching, which means there is no standardized set of education or licensure requirements to become a health coach. Subsequently, it’s largely up to individual employers to establish these requirements – which can vary widely.
All else being equal, there are several professionally recognized health coach certification programs available that are held in high esteem.
3 Steps for How to Become a Health Coach
Overall, most health coaches employed today have completed the first two basic steps prior to or during enrollment in a certification program:
Step 1: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree
The majority of employers are looking to hire HCs that hold at least a bachelor’s degree or higher in a health sciences-related major. You do not necessarily need a clinical degree in nursing or dietetics, although some employers do prefer or require those with formal healthcare education.
Step 2: Establish Work Experience
Work experience helps you grow as a professional, providing you with insight you can’t learn in school. Most training programs require at least 1-2 years of work experience in your respective field, whether public health, fitness, or other clinical practice.
Step 3: Become a Certified Health Coach
Going through the process of becoming certified in health coaching shows potential employers you’ve dedicated yourself to this role and are qualified to perform related duties as outlined in the job description. Most organizations granting HC certifications require you to meet certain qualifications before you are allowed to sit for your certification exam. This may include having a degree, a clinical background, or considerable work experience in health & fitness. If you are able to meet all the requirements of the certification programs and pass the exam, you can call yourself a Certified Health Coach.
As a general rule of thumb, the more education, experience and credentials you have, the better your chances of being hired and earning higher pay once you start working. Having experience in the healthcare or fitness fields and/or a degree in any health-related subject along with being a certified coach will help you land a job, so you can start helping people improve their health.
To reiterate, there isn’t one officially defined certificate, degree or license required to practice health coaching. But, most programs require some type of degree, work experience, and exam.
Do You Need to Have a Clinical Background to Be a Health Coach?
Some health coaching programs require a degree to receive the certification, whereas others do not. But, once you begin looking for a job, whether or not having a clinical background matters, depends on the employer and how they define the requirements for the role. Some health coaching positions require you to be a registered nurse (RN) or registered dietitian (RD). Yet only others require a bachelor’s degree in a health-related field in combination with a health coach certification to be qualified.
You can still have your own health coaching practice without relying on an employer. For example, if you are a certified personal trainer, but have no clinical experience, you may consider offering health coaching services in addition to fitness training. In this case, your earning potential is basically limited by your ability to acquire new clients and run your own personal health coaching business.
Work Settings for Health Coaches
Most employment opportunities for health coaches are in the healthcare sector. These jobs can include positions with health insurance companies, health & wellness solution businesses, physician groups/practices and occupational health departments of hospitals. It’s common for HCs to be contracted on an hourly basis, although salaried positions do exist.
Those with an entrepreneurial spirit can also form their own consulting business, much like some registered dietitians and personal trainers do. This allows health coaches to work for themselves recruiting and managing their own clientele.
The Health Solutions Boom
Since the early 2000s, companies have been increasingly focused on wellness for employees. Companies are invested in healthier employees to increase productivity and decrease health insurance claims. The increased interest in corporate wellness explains why the health coaching role has become so utilized in the business sector.
With the recent changes to our nation’s healthcare system, commercial insurance companies are encouraging and covering health counseling and fitness training more extensively than ever before. This change is a win-win for insurance payers, employers and employees. Everyone benefits from focusing on health and wellness due to the profound impact that ongoing disease prevention and management has on individuals and society at large.
And of course, expanding Medicare and Medicaid programs are also providing work opportunities for health coaches by covering one-on-one coaching services. With this increased focus on health, health coaches win out as well!
Example of Health Coach Employers
Here is a brief list of some companies that employ health coaches:
- Blue Cross Blue Shield
- UnitedHealth Group
Health & Wellness Solution Providers
- ActiveHealth Management
- American Specialty Health
- Health Dialog
- Nurtur Health
- Provant Health
- Quantum Health
Digital Health: A New Wave
Digital health management and therapeutics companies are breaking ground in the healthcare industry. These types of innovative companies combine technology with evidence-based behavior change practices to help people make lasting modifications that can improve their health. Technology can be used to help patients manage a variety of health conditions from asthma, to weight loss, to smoking cessation.
Expect these new and innovative businesses to create job openings for HCs. San Francisco-based Omada Health is an example of one such company employing HCs.
Duties of a Health Coach
A large part of what health coaches do is develop and implement weight and stress management plans based around increased physical activity, proper nutrition and healthy lifestyle changes. They evaluate their client’s current habits and create highly personalized goals and action plans based upon their specific needs. They may use counseling skills like motivational interviewing to help clients achieve their goals.
For example, they can work with their clients to improve nutrition and eating habits. If they are clinically trained as an RD or RN, they may also be able to help those requiring stricter adherence to nutritional guidelines due to conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, or gastrointestinal illnesses like celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or Crohn’s disease.
Again, it doesn’t just stop there. In educating clients on how to make necessary dietary changes, the health coach also provides guidance for other behavior changes. For example, they may counsel clients in stress management, where they would introduce ways to manage/relieve stress such as through meditation or yoga.
At the root of what an HC does, it’s really about addressing how all facets of health need to be positively balanced, then facilitating the changes that need to be made with close management. The goal is to reduce the patient’s risk of developing chronic disease and help them reach their health goals.
HCs typically make themselves very accessible to their patients/clients through in-person, phone, text message, and email communications. For example, they may go food shopping with their clients to teach them how to make healthier food choices while at the grocery store.
They also may assist them at the gym (if the HC has a fitness background), or hold a collaborative meeting with a personal trainer on how to work with the client in developing a personalized plan. Once this plan is developed, the coach will help keep the client motivated through ongoing encouragement and goal-tracking.
Health Coach Salary
In 2020, the nationwide average salary for “health coaches” was around $48,300 according to ZipRecruiter.com. A search for “certified health coach”, however, returns a nationwide average salary figure of just over $66,000. This difference stresses the importance of a quality certification, although the higher pay may also require a clinical background or graduate level education requirements, as well as more job responsibilities.
Again, in reality, it’s not uncommon for certified HCs to work on an hourly basis (as opposed to being salaried) and can make $32 per hour on average. But, HCs in private practice can charge upwards of $200 per hour or more, especially if you’re a licensed medical or allied health professional. The American Council on Exercise (ACE) reports average earnings for individuals with the accredited ACE Health Coach certification is $33 per hour or almost $52,000 per year.
Job Outlook for Health Coaches
As the nation becomes more and more health conscious, there is a big push towards making lifestyle changes that promote long term health and well-being. This increased awareness of health from workplaces, commercial and non-commercial health insurance organizations, clinical professionals and the general public has resulted in the expansion of the need for more health and wellness coaches.
While there is no official job growth rate specifically for Health Coaches, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts Health Educators – who share some similar job duties and workplaces – will experience an 11% percent increase in employment opportunities from 2018-2028.
Working as a health coach is a great way to help people learn to make lasting changes to their health and wellness. Adding a health coaching certification to an existing clinical degree is a great way to increase your counseling skills and make you more appealing to employers. Even if you don’t have a degree, certain health coaching certifications allow you to start your own practice within a few months. Whichever path you choose, becoming a health coach is a rewarding career with ample potential for growth and an opportunity to implement core, life-changing habits in the lives of your clients.
Reviewed by Ana Reisdorf, MS, RD