How to Become a Health Coach

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4 Steps to Becoming a Health Coach

Step 1 Earn a Degree

Major health coach employers like health insurance firms, wellness centers and weight loss companies want health coaches to have undergraduate training. Associate's and bachelor's degrees are awarded in health wellness coaching, health sciences and wellness coaching and health management. Some employers may prefer an educational or working background in nursing, dietary medicine, pediatrics, geriatrics or behavioral therapy.

Step 2 Obtain a Certification

Choose an accredited certification program. Health coach certification accrediting agencies include the National Commission for Certifying Agencies and the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools. Certification programs take three months to a year to complete. At the end of the training, students must pass the certification exam, a test comprised of about 150 questions.

Step 3 Gain Work Experience

Research health coach employers, choosing a job in a growing environment like health insurance, hospitals and wellness centers. Specialties that health coaches pursue careers in are corrective exercise, sports, weight management and fitness nutrition.

Step 4 Maintain Certification

Complete a minimum number of continuing health coach education study hours to maintain certification.

FAQ on Earning Your Health Coach Degree or Certification

Following are top tips that address key parts of health coach training. Within these tips is also a clear view of what separates a health coach from other careers like dietitian, fitness trainer and nutritionist.

  • Some certification agencies require health care workers to complete a minimum of 20 hours of training every two years. CPR/AED training, accompanied by an in-person or virtual CPR/AED exam may also be required.

  • Health coaches perform fitness, dietary and behavioral health screenings on clients. They also set dietary standards and exercise plans. Unlike nutritionists and personal trainers, health coaches take a broader approach to fitness. They record client data like caloric intake, vital signs and minor medical condition screenings.

  • A health coach works with individuals and entire families to create realistic health plans. They also perform age-based and entry level screenings. It is important that health coaches know how to take accurate vital sign readings and educate clients on steps to prevent development of a chronic illness.

  • Health coaches need strong communication skills. These skills are used to develop positive relationships with patients and family members who have daily interactions with the patient, people who may be required to stop enabling a patient's eating habits. They also communicate with other healthcare professionals like physicians and dieticians. Emails, telephone calls and webcasts are used to hold weekly coaching sessions with patients.

  • Motivational, physical fitness and behavioral coaching sessions. How to eat, exercise and rest to avoid developing a chronic illness is a specific coaching. Other coaching helps patients sustain fitness, dietary, mental and behavioral plans.

  • Health coaches work at hospitals, fitness centers, public health organizations, major corporations, insurance companies, nursing homes, nonprofit agencies and training centers. Independent or freelancer health coaches work in their or a client's home. Coaches can also hold online sessions with patients.

  • Drive to pay healthcare professionals based on the effectiveness of their work results may impact the health coach field. Greater emphasis on positively altering internal motivations is another trend hitting the industry. In fact, it's this trend that is making health coaching, a relatively new career field, increasingly popular.

  • Interest to work as a health coach is growing. People from nursing, social work, psychology and allied health fields are becoming health coaches. Some licensed physicians are also entering the health coaching field.

Health Coach Salary & Job Growth

Evidence that people do not achieve sustainable change by being told what to eat, specific exercises to perform and how much sleep to get each night is helping to fuel job growth in the health coaching field. After all, health coaches focus on internal and external patient conditions. Additionally, focus to reduce health insurance premiums and medical costs is encouraging a shift from repeat medical care for the same condition to less expensive sustainable care that doesn't require a prescription or hospital visit. As with any career, training, certifications, experience and performance impact health coach salaries and advancement opportunities.

Some employers of health coaches offer an integrated compensation plan. In these instances, bonuses may be paid for earning a certification. Coaches might also be paid commissions based on the numbers of clients that they have. Health coaches who work as consultants complement their income in creative ways, including hosting webinars, holding private coaching sessions and adding more fitness instruction with existing behavioral coaching. The median wages for health coaches is around $45,185, according to Payscale, that includes bonuses, profit sharing and commissions. Careers that health coaches could, with additional training, advance into include physical therapy and recreational therapy. Median annual wages that these therapists earned as of 2017 were $86,850 and $47,680 respectively.

In addition to training, commissions and experience, another factor that affects health coach salaries and job growth is the part of the country that coaches work in. Following is a state based breakout of annual wages and employment data for health coaches.

Alabama Mean wage annual: $50,890
Currently Employed: 300
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 23%
Alaska Mean wage annual: $62,560
Currently Employed: 310
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 11%
Arizona Mean wage annual: $59,070
Currently Employed: 1,510
Change in Employment (2016-2026): N/A
Arkansas Mean wage annual: $44,180
Currently Employed: 230
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 12%
California Mean wage annual: $62,960
Currently Employed: 8,050
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 20%
Colorado Mean wage annual: $57,110
Currently Employed: 800
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 27%
Connecticut Mean wage annual: $66,350
Currently Employed: 620
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 11%
Delaware Mean wage annual: $64,290
Currently Employed: 230
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 15%
Florida Mean wage annual: $53,750
Currently Employed: 3,640
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 21%
Georgia Mean wage annual: $82,950
Currently Employed: 2,830
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 13%
view more

The job outlook for health coaches is good. Jobs for health workers across specialties is expected to grow by about 18% from 2016 through 2026, according to the BLS. The health management and wellness coaching field is expected to experience an annual growth rate of about 13%. Advanced certifications, internships and cross-training in other healthcare specialties could improve a candidate's chances of securing rewarding employment and earning higher wages. The need to treat the entire person, offering a holistic healthcare approach, is increasing the demand for health coaches. The increasingly popular school of thought argues that lasting change is the result of treating the entire person. Lasting positive change has a direct correlation to the growing focus on pay-for-performance as it relates to healthcare.

Finding a Health Coach Program

Most health coach training programs are taught at undergraduate levels. However, the Global Advances in Health and Medicine shares that graduate degrees like the integrative health coaching master's degree are available. Adults who have a bachelor's education in another field may return to college to earn a master's or doctorate degree in health coaching or a related field. Points to consider when choosing a health coaching certification or degree program include core coursework and whether or not the program teaches an integrative wellness approach. An example of this is a program that offers instruction on stress management, nutrition, fitness, health awareness and behavior modification. Other points to consider when choosing a health coaching college program are costs, internship opportunities, the chance to earn certifications prior to graduating from the program and the program's job placement rates. Following are a list of schools that offer training that leads to a health coaching degree, certification or license.

Professional Health Coach Associations & Groups

The National Wellness Conference, National Coaching Conference and the National Conference on Coaching in Human Services are events that make it easy for health coaches to network with professionals working within and across their industry. Broadening connections with other health coaches can also help these professionals to gain new skills, learn about new job opportunities and enter into rewarding mentoring partnerships. Below are associations and professional groups in the health coaching field that offer ongoing networking opportunities.

  • National Society of Health Coaches

    This national society was created by healthcare practitioners. The society offers independent study, online testing and certification programs.

  • International Association of Health Coaches

    Based in Washington, DC, the association is the largest global health and wellness coach alliance. Advocacy for health coaches, liability insurance for independent health coaches and information on health policies are offered through the association.

  • Health Coach Association of North America

    As a non-profit education association, the organization offers associate, professional and education based memberships. Liability insurance, educational organization accreditation and grants are membership benefits.

  • Worldwide Association of Yoga Health Coaching

    Business models for independent yoga health coaches and yoga health coach training are available to members. A one year certification program and webinars are also available.

  • National Association of Nutrition Professionals

    The mission of the association is to advocate for professionals who work in holistic nutrition. A career center and partnerships with schools and academic programs are among member benefits. The association also hosts an annual conference.

  • Institute of Coaching Professional Association

    In addition to an annual conference, the association provides research grants, discussion forums and a monthly coaching report. Members can also earn continuing education credits for attending certain events.

  • The American Coaching Association

    As part of its mission, the American Coaching Association links coaches that work across specialties. Individualized coaching, particularly for people with ADD or ADHD, is a focus of the organization. Health coach professionals can list their services with the association.

Resources for Health Coaches

Government agencies, colleges and universities and non-profit organizations provide additional research, business data and policy information on the health coach profession. The chance to read articles, survey results and study new trends is available through these resources. Theory, professional development and extensive training are other benefits found at resources such as those listed below.

  • International Consortium for Health & Wellness Coaching

    Science based training, coaching knowledge and assessment of existing health coach skills are found through the consortium.

  • National Institutes of Health

    Grants and funding, community resources and information on clinical research trials are services at the National Institutes of Health. More than a dozen partner institutes and centers are included at the national organization.

  • Nutrition Ed

    State requirements for organizations and individuals operating in the nutrition and diet fields are housed at Nutrition Ed. Health Coach is one of the career specialties covered at the organization.

  • Wellness Council of America

    Expert interviews, a summit and information on relevant considerations like employee wellness and behavioral changes are provided through the council. Articles that spotlight the benefits of wellness coaching are available as well.

  • Steps Forward

    Instructions on how to launch a health coaching program are offered at Steps Forward. Schools and training centers can obtain information on how to accredit their health coach programs using resources at Steps Forward.

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