The Education You Need to Become a Health Coach
Health coaching programs cater to a variety of students, from established professionals to those entering the healthcare profession for the first time.
Many aspiring health coaches already have a professional background in another field, including healthcare. But no matter how you come to the career—with a college degree, related wellness training, or a high school education—there are health coach training programs for your qualifications.
Here’s a look at various health coach programs to help you determine which educational pathway is right for you.
Choosing a Program
Most health coaching programs are online and bestow a certificate upon completion. As you look at programs, you’ll want to consider admission requirements, your career goals, and where you want to work. The wide variety of programs is a plus, but there’s not one central national accrediting body that provides accreditation specifically for health coaching programs, and there are no national education, licensing, or certification requirements to start working as a health coach.
This means you’ll need to look closely at programs to determine if they provide the training for the career you want to pursue.
You’ll find health coaching programs offered by:
When considering a program, you’ll want to start by finding out whether you can meet admission requirements. Next, look for these elements:
When you look at programs, also factor in your goals and interests.
“There are definitely programs that spend more time focusing on functional (holistic, personalized) medicine versus the science of health and wellness coaching and the brain, while other programs focus more on nutrition,” says Leigh-Ann M. Webster, NBC-HWC, executive director of the National Board for Health and Wellness Coaching. “It really depends on what a person wants, what they want their focus to be, where they’re headed in their life, and what’s interesting to them.”
Health coaching programs offered by professional organizations and private schools generally fall into one of three categories based on admission requirements.
University and Community College Programs
In addition to private programs, health and wellness training programs are offered at many colleges and universities. Admission criteria vary widely, depending on whether the program is part of a bachelor’s or master’s education, or is offered as a postgraduate certificate program.
One advantage of taking a health coach program at a college or university is the opportunity to earn college credits, which you may be able to transfer toward completion of another program or degree at other accredited institutions.
Online Study and Time to Complete
Most health coach programs are online, and the amount of live interaction you have with your instructor and classmates varies by program. Some online programs will include live one-on-one interaction with your instructor, while in others you’ll study on your own and have periodic check-ins with your instructor.
An emphasis on online health coaching programs mirrors the trend toward virtual health coaching in the workplace.
Health coaching programs can take anywhere from six weeks to a year to complete. If your program emphasizes independent study, the completion time may depend on how quickly you work through the curriculum.
The emphasis on online health coaching programs mirrors the trend toward virtual health coaching in the workplace. This means that the confidence you gain by learning and communicating online can be valuable in your work. “There are many employment opportunities that go hand-in-hand with the virtual setting,” says Araceli De Leon, MS, an ACE-certified health coach and personal trainer. “You can work one-on-one combining the comfort of your client’s home and the convenience of your own workplace. You can even do group calls in a virtual setting if you have three or four clients who have the same goal and can share challenges and successes.”
Accreditation is a stamp of approval for a school or program’s education quality and standards. While there are no official accrediting organizations for health coach programs, some programs are accredited by these organizations:
If you’re taking a health coach training program at a college or university, look for institutional accreditation from one of six accrediting agencies approved by the U.S. Department of Education to ensure that any college credits you earn will be transferrable to other accredited institutions. You can verify an institution’s accreditation on a database maintained by the U.S. Department of Education.
Health Coach Credential
Most health coaching programs offer a certificate upon completion. But note that a certificate isn’t the same thing as certification.
Certification is a credential you can earn based on your expertise and experience in a field. It isn’t required for health coaches, but it could boost your career and your salary. To earn a certification, you must meet the eligibility requirements of the certifying organization and pass an exam to demonstrate your knowledge.
Health coaches can earn the National Board-Certified Health and Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC) credential, offered by the National Board for Health & Wellness Coaching in partnership with the National Board of Medical Examiners.
To qualify for the exam for this credential, you must:
- Complete an approved health coaching program
- Complete 50 health and wellness coaching sessions
- Have an associate degree or higher, or 4,000 hours of work experience in any field
With so many options and considerations in choosing a health coaching program, it’s important to do your research. In some cases, finding the information you need may be as easy as calling a school and speaking to an admissions counselor.
“I find that people in the health coaching field tend to be really great communicators, so when they’re picking up the phone for their program, they are definitely taking the time to communicate with prospective students,” Webster says.