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Public Health Educator: Salary, Job Description and Outlook

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Keeping people healthy and protecting against diseases are among the most important functions of any society. Achieving both goals requires building and maintaining a health infrastructure that depends on accurate and accessible public education. Skilled professionals who develop and run programs that promote health, prevent disease and prepare communities for events such as the COVID-19 pandemic disseminate this critical health information.

A public health educator stands in front of a blackboard displaying health information.

The role of public health educator is pivotal in planning, implementing and monitoring health education programs. The job combines epidemiology, statistics, environmental health, disease prevention and health economics. While the work of public health professionals covers perennial problems such as diabetes prevention, drug addiction and childhood immunizations, public health educators also focus on timely issues such as:

  • COVID-19 prevention
  • COVID-19 vaccination programs
  • Community preparation for the impact of climate change

Public health educators play vital roles in improving the well-being of individuals and communities across the world. Their public health research, prevention programs and other education efforts benefit all individuals and groups by identifying and helping those who are most at risk of diseases.

Whether they’re working in a government agency, providing family services at a healthcare facility or employed by a nonprofit organization, public health educators help improve the lives of the people in their communities, especially vulnerable elderly, women, children and underserved populations.

What Is a Public Health Educator?

The goal of public health education is to guide people in the greatest need of health-related information on choosing healthy lifestyles, getting regular checkups, preventing disease and receiving necessary treatment.

What a public health educator does relates directly to the three primary public health goals: promoting a healthy way of life, accessing available health services and avoiding behaviors that risk people’s health. Public health educators do this by employing different strategies, such as:

  • Educating people about the benefits of a nutritious diet and regular exercise to help maintain a positive attitude. In addition to presentations to groups, public health educators work directly with individual patients and participate in health screenings.
  • Informing people about the health care resources available to them, including federal, state and local public health services.
  • Instructing people on the benefits of avoiding actions and habits that put their health at risk. In addition to using media channels, making presentations and conducting seminars with the public, health educators work with nurses, doctors and other health care professionals to find the best education approaches for their patients.

The American Public Health Association (APHA) identifies 10 essential public health services that a public health system must deliver:

  1. Measure and assess the state of public health.
  2. Identify and investigate health hazards to find their root causes.
  3. Inform and educate the public through the most effective communication channels.
  4. Support community efforts to promote public health and seek partners in the effort.
  5. Plan, promote and implement policies that bolster public health efforts.
  6. Apply legal and regulatory measures that protect public health.
  7. Work to eliminate inequities in the delivery of health care services.
  8. Ensure a sufficient number of skilled public health educators to meet demand.
  9. Conduct research and evaluate methods to spur innovation that improves public health.
  10. Establish and preserve a strong public health infrastructure.

Public health educators are key to ensuring that these services are available to people in need of health care and healthy lifestyle education.

Teach People About Wellness

An important element of public health is preventing chronic diseases through programs such as the  National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (NCCDPHP), a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The program studies the ways chronic diseases impact the U.S. population, identifies actions that help prevent and control the conditions, and shares information with the public about how to reduce the risk of chronic disease.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, public health organizations have focused on protecting people from contracting the virus. In addition to teaching COVID-19 prevention techniques and promoting COVID vaccination programs, public health professionals are working to keep children safe in school. Information campaigns have included elements such as:

Advocate on Behalf of Underserved Communities

Information is one of the greatest weapons in the battle to overcome inequities in access to health care services for specific demographic and ethnic groups, including people of color, people with disabilities, children and the elderly. More and more public health educators are coming together to advocate for better health care for underserved communities.

The Healthcare Information Management and Systems Society (HIMSS) identifies approaches to address the disparities in health care services available to Black and other vulnerable populations:

  • Increase funding to health care programs that provide essential services.
  • Diversify the leadership of health care organizations and medical service providers.
  • Prevent unconscious bias that keeps people from receiving the medical testing and treatment they need.

Advocates for public health education can use their collective voice to increase awareness of health care disparities. They’re part of the concerted effort to implement policies and programs that ensure that everyone receives the highest quality health care and access to information about nutrition and healthy lifestyles.

Provide Strategies and Programs for Healthier Living

Health promotion and disease prevention are typically combined in wellness programs that address people’s attitudes about the connection between their actions and their health. The programs attempt to influence people’s daily decisions that impact their risk of contracting a chronic disease and that depend to a great extent on their social condition. Among the social determinants of health are:

  • Economic stability
  • Education access and quality
  • Health care access and quality
  • Neighborhood and built environment
  • Social and community context

Among the lifestyle risk factors are use of alcohol, use of tobacco, being overweight or obese, lack of sufficient sleep, and lack of physical activity.

Five key responsibilities of public health educators.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, health educators work with communities to determine health needs, create programs for promoting health and wellness, share lessons on health risk prevention, connect people with vital health services and advocate for individuals and communities in need of health care.

Public Health Educator Job Description

The primary duty of public health educators is to give people the tools and information they need to maintain their health and avoid illnesses and disease. A public health educator job description includes the following responsibilities:

  • Assess the health needs of specific communities.
  • Develop programs to teach people about healthy life choices and how to avoid unhealthy habits.
  • Connect people to the health services and educational materials they need.
  • Advocate for policies that yield healthier outcomes for individuals and communities.

Meeting these responsibilities requires the following job-related activities:

  • Educate the public about health and wellness by developing and operating programs and treatments tailored to the needs of specific individuals and groups.
  • Design, evaluate and distribute health education materials that are culturally appropriate.
  • Interview adults and families who are enrolling in various health education programs.
  • Conduct health education classes following organizational guidelines.
  • Keep track of the procedures and treatments that clients have scheduled.
  • Inform nurses, doctors and other health care professionals of the health education services available to their patients.

Within the broad category of public health educator are many health educator specializations that require specific education, training and skills.

Public Health Policy Adviser

Also called public health policy analysts, public health policy advisers are responsible for assessing the public health policies of a government agency or organization to confirm that it effectively meets its goals. Their work includes drafting policy briefs and position papers on matters relating to public health, as well as assisting public health providers in setting priorities for addressing the most important health needs of various segments of the population.

Nurse Educator

Among the public health specialties that fall under the nurse educator title are diabetes nurse educator, behavioral health nurse educator, maternal child health nurse educator and public health clinical nurse educator. Nurse educators are registered nurses who specialize in applying their expertise and training to assist nurses, nursing students and other health workers in providing consistent, high-quality patient care. They identify the learning needs of staff, develop evidence-based guidelines for patient care and education, contribute to the formulation of policies and procedures, and coordinate orientation for new hires.

Education Program Manager

Education program managers are responsible for ensuring that public health education efforts are as effective as possible in achieving their goals. They collect and analyze feedback from patients and other clients to determine how the programs can be improved. They split their time between attending public health education events and performing data analysis based on feedback and other measures of program effectiveness. In addition to a background in public health issues, education program managers must have experience with public speaking, presentation software and data analytics tools.

District Wellness Coordinator

School districts employ district wellness coordinators to plan and implement health and wellness programs for their students, families and staff. Their duties include educating people about proper nutrition, safety, mental health, physical education, wellness promotion and health services. They track each school’s progress in following health education guidelines and coordinate the work of school nurses, counselors, psychologists and social workers. Wellness coordinators meet with local health departments and other community organizations and manage and maintain school health records.

School Health Educator

School health educators interact with students in elementary, middle and high schools to instruct them in how to acquire the skills and knowledge they need to adopt healthy behaviors and make healthy choices. They teach health courses and help develop and implement health programs geared to students, school staff and parents. The position is also responsible for ensuring that schools maintain safe and healthy learning environments. School health educators work with members of the community to promote the health and well-being of students.

Public Information Officer

When public health threats arise, public information officers fill the vital role of communicating with everyone in the community who may be at risk. A government agency usually employs them to coordinate with news media and other information sources to disseminate vital public health information. People serving in this role with private organizations are known as public relations specialists. In addition to responding to public health emergencies and potential threatening conditions, public information officers develop response plans, organize and host public events and health care promotions, and communicate directly with the public.

How to Become a Public Health Educator

The steps involved in becoming a public health educator include earning at least a bachelor’s degree in health education or health promotion, working in health care settings to gain on-the-job experience, getting the required certification and licensing, and expanding your work experience in health care fields.

Step 1: Education Requirements for Public Health Educators

Certification as a public health educator requires at least a bachelor’s degree in health education or a related health field. Undergraduate instruction for public health educators may include psychology, human development, statistics and public policy. Many employers prefer to hire candidates who hold a master’s degree in public health or a related discipline.

  • Choosing areas of study/specializations: Among health educator specialties are biostatistics, epidemiology, behavioral health education, environmental health education, nutrition, maternal and child health, and occupational safety and health.
  • Developing hard and soft skills: Public health educators must possess analytical and communication skills. They must be good instructors and problem solvers, and they need interpersonal skills to work with health care professionals, government officials, community representatives and the public.
  • The benefits of an advanced degree program: Earning a master’s or doctorate degree prepares public health educators to serve in leadership roles and qualify for a wide range of positions in the field. Concentrations available from Master of Public Health (MPH) programs include biostatistics and epidemiology, community health promotion, global health, and health services and policy.

Step 2: Internships and Real-World Training in Public Health Education

Qualifying for public health educator positions may require gaining firsthand work experience in the field. Two ways to gain that experience are by getting an entry-level job or securing an internship with an agency or organization working in public health.

  • Government agencies: Students from high school through graduate school can take advantage of the CDC’s short-term internships, designed to teach leadership skills and develop critical thinking abilities. The internships provide a range of hands-on experience in diverse areas of public health education.
  • Nonprofit organizations and community care centers: The CDC’s Undergraduate Public Health Scholars program offers internships in partnership with many different community organizations, health departments and government agencies.
  • Fellowships and training opportunities: Among the training positions available at the CDC are full-time fellowships lasting one to two years and work experience programs for public health professionals and middle and high school teachers.

The Association of State Public Health Nutritionists (ASPHN) has administered the Health Equity Internship Program since 2002. The 12-week paid internship is intended to promote a diversified workforce in public health education. Projects include prevention of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), cancer, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, injuries and violence.

The Association of State Public Health Nutritionists (ASPHN) has administered the Health Equity Internship Program since 2002. The 12-week paid internship is intended to promote a diversified workforce in public health education. Projects include prevention of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), cancer, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, injuries and violence.

Step 3: Certification/Licensure as a Public Health Educator

Several different public health organizations offer certification for public health educators. The leading certifications for the profession include Certified in Public Health (CPH), Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) and Master Certified Health Education Specialist (MCHES).

  • CPH: The National Board of Public Health Examiners (NBPHE) offers the CPH exam for candidates who meet eligibility requirements, such as attending a school that the Council on Education for Public Health has accredited. CPH certification demonstrates knowledge of key public health sciences as well as a commitment to the continuing education that’s required to make public health education as effective as possible.
  • CHES: The National Commission for Health Education Credentialing (NCHEC) offers certification through the CHES exam, which tests candidates’ knowledge of the Seven Areas of Responsibility for Health Education Specialists: assessment, planning, implementation, evaluation, promotion, resource and advocacy.
  • MCHES: The MCHES is an NCHEC credential that’s intended for health educators who have a graduate degree and experience in the field. Candidates for the MCHES exam must have at least five years of public health work experience and a passing score on a competency-based exam that the NCHEC administers.

Step 4: Work Experience in Public Health Education

Entry-level jobs for public health educators are typically for assistant and associate positions that offer opportunities to gain firsthand experience in public health education. The following are some duties assigned to recent graduates who are getting their start in the field:

  • Assisting an international health program
  • Assessing the health and safety of construction sites
  • Supporting research from a nonprofit public health organization
  • Working on programs designed to prevent diseases
  • Sampling the air quality and conducting other field surveys
  • Serving the public by answering questions phoned into a public health hotline

Public health work opportunities are available to graduates who lack hands-on experience through the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps. In addition, many state and local public health agencies offer students and recent graduates volunteer programs that help them make professional contacts and gain valuable work experience.

Resources on How to Become a Public Health Educator

A list of five of the best-paying professions in public health education.

According to PayScale and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, public health educators with advanced knowledge and skills may be qualified to earn these salaries in the top 10th percentile range: health educator: $102,000; nurse educator: $105,000; health care program manager: $101,000; public information officer: $86,000; and health teacher: $87,000.

Public Health Educator Salary

Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates that health educators in the highest 10% of earners in the profession, who typically have more education and experience, earned a median annual salary of $101,890 as of May 2020. Advanced degree programs and specialized skills in areas such as public speaking and community outreach help public health educators earn higher salaries.

  • Graduate degree programs for public health educators cover such topics as community health education and health promotion, which may qualify job candidates for higher salaries.
  • Health educators in local, state and private hospitals; government agencies; and outpatient care centers may also earn higher salaries, according to the BLS., an independent site unaffiliated with government agencies, states that the average annual salary of public health educators working for the federal government was $107,222 as of 2018.

Salary survey site PayScale reports that certain skills can boost the earnings of public health educators:

  • Project management: 18% higher salaries than the median
  • Strategic planning: 9% higher
  • Public speaking: 2% higher
  • Oral/verbal communication skills: 2% higher

Salaries of public health educators also vary by region:

  • New York City: 20% higher salaries than the median
  • Atlanta: 8% higher
  • Baltimore: 4% higher

PayScale indicates that public health directors earned a median annual salary of about $81,000 as of July 2021, which increased to approximately $141,000 for those in the top 10th percentile of earners. The following are among the skills that can boost the salary of public health directors:

  • Grant writing: 37% higher salaries than the median
  • Leadership: 6% higher
  • Budgeting: 3% higher

The salaries of public health directors are higher in various cities:

  • New York City: 104% higher than the median
  • Philadelphia: 49% higher
  • Cleveland: 39% higher
  • Houston: 30% higher
  • Los Angeles: 29% higher

According to the BLS, jobs for public health educators are projected to grow by 11% between 2019 and 2029, much faster than the projected average for all occupations (4%).

A Career Building Stronger, Healthier Communities

When disasters such as the COVID-19 pandemic strike, we learn all over again that accurate, up-to-date health information saves lives. Public health educators play a vital role in preparing communities to respond to unforeseen disease outbreaks. They also help people make healthy life choices every day by educating them directly and through training health care professionals on how to avoid health risks and adopt healthy habits.

The demand for skilled public health educators increases as society comes to understand the many benefits of disease prevention and health promotion. Careers in public health education allow professionals to enhance their communities and have a positive impact on the lives of thousands of individuals.

Infographic Sources:

PayScale, Average Health Teacher Salary
PayScale, Average Healthcare Program Manager Salary
PayScale, Average Nurse Educator Salary
PayScale, Average Public Information Officer Salary
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Health Educators and Community Health Workers