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Wednesday, November 13, 2019  

Celebrating Health Education in ActionPublished 10/21/2002

By Linda J. Hawley, RN, MS, FNP

National Health Education Week is celebrated each year during the third week of October. Since 1995, the National Center for Health Education (NCHE) has sponsored National Health Education Week. The 2002 theme, Medicine Education: What Children Need to Know, to bring into focus health literacy and child health issues. For more information on NCHE and this important initiative, go to its website at

All health care professionals have a responsibility for health education with their patients. The profession of health education has been growing and many certified health educators are employed in a variety of health care organizations.

Importance of Health Education

Since early in the 20th century, health educators have played an important role in addressing challenges to our health. In the past, when the biggest killers in this country were infectious diseases such as smallpox, science and medicine helped bring these killers more under control. In those efforts the role of the health educator was paramount. Then and now health educators provided expertise in shaping messages, sharing information about different infectious diseases, designing health programs and campaigns, and helping consumers understand disease risks and appropriate ways for improving health status. Now, the greatest threats to our health are chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, AIDS, obesity, injuries, as well as biological agents. In addressing these threats, the job of health educators involves a knowledge-base and skill set aimed at improving and maintaining the health of individuals, families, and communities.

Foundations of Health Education

Health education is a social science that draws from the biological, environmental, psychological, physical, and medical sciences to promote health and prevent disease, disability, and premature death through theory-based voluntary behavior change activities, programs, campaigns, and research. It is an essential public health service that has people practicing each of the core functions of public health: assessment, policy development, and quality assurance. By focusing on prevention, health education reduces the financial and human costs that individuals, employers, medical facilities, insurance companies, and the nation would spend on medical treatment.

The Health Education Workforce

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there are more than 40,000 community health educators in the U.S. Many health educators specialize in health education or community health (trained and/or certified health education specialists). They practice in schools, colleges, workplaces, medical care settings, public health settings, community-based agencies and organizations and other settings. Others perform selected health education functions as part of what they consider their primary responsibility (medical treatment, nursing, social work, substance abuse/HIV counselors, oral hygiene, etc.). Lay workers may also learn on the job to do specific, limited educational tasks to encourage healthy behavior. While para-professionals and health professionals from other disciplines may offer health education services, they may not be familiar with the specialized body of health education and behavior change knowledge, skills, theories, and research, nor is it their primary interest or professional development focus.

Training in Health Education

Being a health educator requires specialized study. Over 250 colleges and universities in the U.S. offer professional preparation programs in health education with degrees varying from baccalaureate to doctorate. Health education has entry-level and advanced level competencies that serve as basis for professional practice. For example, health educators can assess the need for and plan, develop, implement, manage, and evaluation health programs in collaboration with medical staff and community agencies. Nationally, health educators also may receive a special certification in the field, Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES), from the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing, Inc (NCHEC). A CHES is specifically trained to effectively assess health education needs; plan, implement, and evaluate programs; build coalitions and coordinate the provision of health services; identify resources; act as an advocate for health issues; and communicate health education needs. CHES are re-certified every five years based on documentation of participation in 75 hours of approved continuing education activities. Employing a Certified Health Education Specialists gives your organization professionals who have demonstrated expertise in health education, will increase the effective of your programs, and have contemporary skills and knowledge of health education through their continuing education requirements.

National Health Education Week

This year the theme is "Medicine Education: What Children Need to Know."

National Health Education Week October 21-25, 2002 Celebrating Health Education in Action

To learn more about the field of health education, please contact one of the following member organizations of the Coalition of National Health Education Organizations.American Association for Health Education1900 Association Drive, Reston, VA 20191800-213-7193 College Health Association PO Box 28937 Baltimore, MD 21240 410-859-1500 http://www.acha.orgAmerican School Health Association 7263 State Route 43 PO Box 708 Kent, OH 44240 330-678-1601 http://www.ashaweb.orgAssociation of State and Territorial Directors of Health Promotion and Public Health Education 1101 15th St. NW, Suite 601 Washington, DC 20005
202-659-2230 Eta Sigma Gamma The National Professional Health Education Honorary 2000 University Avenue, Muncie, Indiana 47306
800-715-2559 Health Education and Health Promotion Section and School Health Education and Services Section, American Public Health Association 800 Eye Street, NW Washington, DC 20002 202-777-APHA (2742)

Celebrate your contributions to health and health education within your agency and community.

Linda J. Hawley is the Graduate Program Director for Family Nurse Practitioner Program at Midwestern State University, Wichita Falls, Texas. She can be reached at 940- 397- 4610 or email at

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