Health Coaching Education & Career Guide
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What You’ll Do as a Health Coach
Health coaches can work in many settings and with many kinds of clients. Your education could determine where you’ll land.
A health coach works as a partner with individuals who want to improve their health and well-being, many times by making big changes in their lifestyles. Rather than counseling or advising, a health coach supports and collaborates with a client as an equal partner.
Your career opportunities and role will depend on your education, where you work, and whether you specialize.
Find out more about where you can work and what you’ll do in this evolving profession.
Health coaches defer to individuals as experts of their own lives, says Araceli De Leon, MS, an ACE-certified health coach and personal trainer.
“Health and wellness coaches partner with clients,” De Leon says. “These clients are seeking self-directed, lasting changes, which are aligned with their values, but coaches specifically promote health and wellness and enhance the client’s well-being.”
Based on an individual’s needs, a health coach may focus on helping them change behaviors or habits to:
In many cases, a health coach supports the individual in accomplishing their main goal by helping them create smaller, achievable goals along the way, De Leon says.
For example, an individual who wants to prevent or manage high blood pressure may have to take a series of smaller steps, including:
Health Coach Duties
As a health coach, you’ll make a difference when you help patients gain the knowledge and tools—and the self-confidence—to make healthy changes. Every client presents unique circumstances and physical, emotional, and lifestyle needs. This means you’ll need to help them work to address a wide range of variables, even if you work with a specific type of client, such as people with diabetes.
Your work with a client may take only a few sessions, or it could last much longer. Depending on where you work, you may meet with them in person or via teleconferencing. And while many clients prefer one-on-one meetings, others may enjoy the camaraderie and support of group meetings that include a few clients who have similar wellness goals.
Clients may meet with their coaches one-on-one or in a group setting.
In clinical settings, a health and wellness coach may be part of a patient’s healthcare team. “In the United States, physicians generally have about six to 20 minutes per patient, and in that time there’s not a lot of opportunity to discuss things like what’s going on in your life, what your stressors are, and how much movement you’re doing a day,” says Leigh-Ann M. Webster, NBC-HWC, executive director of the National Board for Health and Wellness Coaching.
Ideally, a physician could refer a person to a health coach to follow through on these conversations, Webster says. “The health and wellness coach could really do a deep dive with the patient to find out all this information, and help the patient create a plan for moving forward to reduce stress in their life, improve their blood pressure, or whatever their needs might be.”
Working with Clients
No matter where you work, your duties may include the following, depending on a client’s needs:
Health Coach Workplaces
Your career opportunities and your salary will be influenced by your health coach training and any additional education or experience you have in healthcare or health and wellness fields such as fitness.
You’re likely to find that where you work can affect how you perform your duties. Health coaches with clinical experience may find more opportunities in traditional healthcare organizations, health insurance companies, or physicians’ offices. In these settings, your role may include both clinical and health coaching duties.
If your primary education is health coach training, coaching at a fitness center or community wellness center may be a good fit. Since there’s no formal licensing for health coaches, it’s important to find out what training and credentials are typically required in your local area for a position you’d like to pursue.
Here are some examples of health coach workplaces and responsibilities.
Building Your Own Business
A job as a health coach is a great career if you’re interested in working in private practice. Health coaches who work as independent contractors can provide their services on a flexible schedule, which may be appealing if you’re starting your career while balancing family care-giving responsibilities, another job, or attending school.
Many health coaches start by working as a full- or part-time employee so they can quickly gain experience with a wide range of clients and goals. For others, it’s a chance to help define their interests so they can develop a private practice focused on clients with similar conditions or goals.
If you’re considering private practice, you’ll have to learn basic business skills. While business education isn’t typically included in most health coach certificate programs, you may find some that provide basic instruction in this area. Of course, using the services of business professionals, like an accountant or bookkeeper, can provide an added level of security to help you establish your business on sound financial footing.
If your goal is to open a private practice, you may need training in these areas:
It’s also important to understand the business regulations that affect health coaches in your state.
“You might have to get a business license, which is very easy to get, but it depends on your state,” Webster says. “Not only should coaches be looking at what’s required in their states, but also in their county and city, because they’re always very different.”
Building and Advancing Your Career
While certified health coaches are often required to take continuing education credits to maintain a certification credential, there’s no established requirement for health coaches without a certification. No matter where you work, you should stay up to date on changing health standards and practices to offer the best coaching.
“An important characteristic of a successful health coach is they continue to grow, learn, and expand—not only for their career opportunities but really to maintain that standard of being able to help your clients to their fullest potential,” De Leon says.
Some health coaches enter the profession with active clinical licenses, while others pursue additional certifications or education later. For example, earning certification as a personal trainer allows you to create an exercise plan for a client whose goals include being more active.
Adding certifications to your health coach training can open doors to additional coaching opportunities.
Continuing education can also help you gain the knowledge necessary to work with specific types of providers or design a private practice to meet growing demand or personal interests.
“If you’re solely a health coach and want to consider, ‘What can I do for myself?’ there are many different avenues you can explore such as courses on smoking cessation or oncology that don’t require an advanced degree,” De Leon says. “You can definitely find your niche with the populations that you want to work with.”
With professional insight from: