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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.

female speaker motivates three team members
female speaker motivates three team members

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.

Career Overview

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:

  • Improve diet
  • Quit smoking
  • Meet exercise goals
  • Increase energy
  • Reduce stress
  • Improve sleep
  • Lower cholesterol
  • Navigate healthcare resources
  • Prevent or manage a chronic disease such as diabetes or high blood pressure

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:

  • Taking their blood pressure daily
  • Planning heart-healthy meals
  • Exercising regularly

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:

Set specific and measurable goals


A client who has been newly diagnosed with diabetes, for example, may be overwhelmed by the idea of managing the disease. A health coach can support them in breaking a larger goal into steps or mini goals to make measurable progress.

Work as part of the healthcare team


A health coach may or may not work in tandem with a physician or other healthcare provider. In some cases, a patient may find a health coach on their own, and then have their coach consult with their physician about recommended goals.

Refer a client to experts who can help them achieve specific health goals


A health coach isn’t qualified to prescribe or recommend some actions unless they have additional credentials. This means that a client who needs help planning meals may benefit from a referral to a dietitian.

Recognize barriers and help clients overcome them


A health coach can offer a different perspective to a client who’s stuck repeating the same harmful behaviors. By helping clients identify their triggers and weaknesses, a coach can help them find ways to overcome behaviors that interfere with reaching goals.

Serve as a resource for support and encouragement


As partners with their clients, health coaches provide support and encouragement when clients feel challenged or overwhelmed. While coaches don’t provide psychological counseling, they can encourage clients to improve their mindset, which can help improve their behavior.

Provide a level of accountability


By establishing goals for periodic check-ins, a health coach can help their client stay on track to achieve their goals.

Essential Skills and Qualities for a Health Coach

While a training program can give you the skills you need to be a health coach, personal qualities can be just as important to your success. “You need to have a passion for helping others become their best selves because, as a health coach, you’re working to empower clients through their motivation and inspiration. You have the ability to tap into someone’s motivation and foster an action,” De Leon says.

Here are some personal qualities that can help you connect with clients.

  • Curiosity to ask the right questions. You should be curious enough to ask questions that will help your clients explore reasons to change and find strategies to accomplish their goals. This may involve using open-ended questions, affirmations, or other conversational skills that can identify a patient’s motivation.
  • Capacity to be a good listener. A good health coach doesn’t do all the talking. It’s your job to listen “actively” to your client and engage with them based on what they share with you.
  • Interest in motivating and partnering with others. A health coach knows how to motivate people without crossing the line into directing or prescribing actions. You’ll need to maintain your role as a partner who helps clients identify and make the changes that work for them.
  • Ability to relate to others with compassion. Your success will depend partly on putting aside any prejudices so you can communicate compassionately and without judgment. You’ll also need to be able to talk about topics that may make you or your client uncomfortable—but are critical to your client’s success.
  • Commitment to professionalism. In your mission to help your clients, you’ll need to be able to recognize when they need to consult with experts and provide that direction.
  • Attention to self-care. Successful health coaches practice what they preach. This means taking care of your own health so you can be a model for your clients. 

Ultimately, a health coach must be able to recognize a client’s readiness to change. “Health and wellness coaches are trained to understand the stages of readiness,” Webster says. “We may consider: Where is a client in their readiness to change, what is it going to take for them to find their intrinsic motivation, and what is really going to help them tap into whatever it is that they’re trying to do that’s actually going to create that behavior change for them.”

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.

Employer: Hospitals and physician practices

Sample Responsibilities:

  • Serve as bridge between patient and clinician
  • Instruct patients on using equipment, such as glucometers and blood pressure monitors
  • Depending on credentials and license, provide dietary counseling or patient education

Employer: Holistic/intergrative health centers

Sample Responsibilities:

  • Partner with clients to help them achieve health and wellness goals with an emphasis on holistic wellness or an integrative approach
  • With proper credentials, may provide supplemental services such as reiki or massage therapy

Employer: Corporations

Sample Responsibilities:

  • Provide health coaching services as part of an employee wellness program
  • Run workshops or groups for employees with similar health and wellness goals

Employer: Insurance companies

Sample Responsibilities:

  • Work with insured clients on behalf of the insurer to help them achieve health goals
  • Assist insured clients in navigating health plan resources for goals

Employer: Spas, fitness centers, and health clubs

Sample Responsibilities:

  • Partner with clients to help them establish measurable goals
  • With proper credentials, may provide services as a personal trainer or exercise specialist to complement health coaching

Employer: Private practice

Sample Responsibilities:

  • Conduct individually tailored health coaching in one-on-one and/or group sessions in person or online
  • Pursue opportunities as a motivational speaker or other roles in promoting health and wellness

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:

  • Business licensing
  • Sales and marketing
  • Social media
  • Bookkeeping and business taxes
  • Billing
  • Website management
  • Scheduling
  • Client and provider contracts

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.”


anna giorgi

Written and Reported by:
Anna Giorgi
Contributing Writer

With professional insight from:

araceli deleon

Araceli De Leon, MS
ACE-certified Health Coach and Personal Trainer

leigh ann webster

Leigh-Ann M. Webster, NBC-HWC
Executive Director of the National Board for Health and Wellness Coaching


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