Make Health Coaching a Winning Job for You
The imaginary ad reads: “Seeking long-term partner for healthcare.” Enter the health coach, who helps consumers exert more control over their lives as they journey down the road to better health. Doing so can head potentially chronic problems off at the pass before they inflict irreparable damage.
“A health coach helps a person make a healthful behavioral change,” says Natalie Digate Muth, MD, MPH, RD. “The coach helps that client identify and bring forth their own motivation to change, develop a change plan and reasonable goals, work through challenges and barriers, and gauge success,” says Dr. Muth, who is also solutions director for the American Council on Exercise (ACE) and a practicing primary care pediatrician and obesity medicine specialist.
“I work with children and their families every day to help plan for and adopt healthful changes to optimize children's health,” says Dr. Muth. “Having the skill set that comes with being a health coach helps me to do that more effectively. I am able to tailor my approach to the family's readiness to change, strengths and values, and resources.”
Make the Ordinary Extraordinary
“A paradigm shift is under way,” says Lee Jordan, ACE certified health coach. “The healthcare system has been coined the ‘sick care system’ with its ‘wait until it gets broken and then fix it’ approach. Now the Affordable Care Act has shifted the focus to prevention, and to healthful behavior and choices.”
A 2014 study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found five recommended behaviors could prevent four out of five heart attacks in men. They simply needed to eat better, lose weight, exercise, stop smoking and drink moderately. If only it were that easy, as Jordan knows well.
He lost 281 pounds from a top weight of 450. Now when he coaches clients he knows “it’s not about doing extraordinary things. Instead, it’s about doing ordinary things daily.” The premise is paying off handsomely with an eighth-grader who once weighed 400 pounds and now weighs less than 250 pounds.
“Our job as a health coach is not to give advice, not direct people, but to empathize with them and help them find what’s inside themselves and to lead a new, full life,” Jordan says.
Coaching Deserves Comprehensive Oversight
“A health coach is not a health coach is not a health coach,” says Melinda Huffman, BSN, MSN, CCNS, CHC, and co-founder and principal of The National Society of Health Coaches (NHSC). “It was a buzzword adopted approximately 10 years ago, but ‘health coaches’ of the past simply taught folks about their conditions. They did not in many cases have the skills of evidence-based or scientifically-based health coaching to guide health behavior change in their clients, patients, employees or members.”
Because different providers of health coaching education define evidence-based health coaching differently, they accept different qualifications, Huffman says. “The National Society of Health Coaches hopes to change this by beginning the conversation with our position statement that is open for public comment now,” says Huffman.
The society offers its CHC certification via self-study to healthcare professionals who are already licensed and credentialed. If you’re not, you can opt for a certificate of completion.
Show Your Value
Certification or accreditation is critical in terms of demonstrating the value of health coaching as part of an extended and collaborative group, says Anthony Wall, MS, and ACE’s director of professional education. It’s especially important when considering patient-centered care delivered by a multi-disciplinary team—a concept gaining increasing significance under the ACA.
“Certification teaches someone information and gives them knowledge, then verifies the criteria to work within a specific job role,” he says. “Think about a university degree. It says you’ve met criteria and learned about certain topics, but it doesn’t mean you have the skill set to work in a specific profession.”
Wall notes that ACE certification—available as self-study with a convenient off-site exam—is the only one accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA), which also accredits certifications for pharmacists, nurse practitioners, registered dieticians and other health professions. This may make the certification highly desirable by certain employers.
If the fitness and healthcare industries believe people need help, they can’t be affected by just one person—only by registered dietitians or physical therapists, for example. “For anyone to work as an effective part of that medical community, they must have reputable credentials. ACE is also working with other groups to increase the level of credentialing,” he says.
Hold Clients Accountable
“Certification is only worth the amount of value someone thinks it is, since there is no national or state level of mandated training,” says Lynda Smith, director of educational programs at Duke Integrative Medicine in Durham, N.C. It’s widely understood that depth of training makes a difference in the health coaching profession, she says.
The department offers both a foundations course, offered on campus, and for those who complete that, a certification course via online and teleconferencing opportunities. Both emphasize work with the whole person and empowerment to help them reach their highest level of health. At Duke, clients are held accountable as coaches help create and sustain the mindset needed to make lifestyle changes by heightening personal awareness.
Smith says that approximately half of her course participants have been nurses, social workers or psychologists, while the other half have been exercise physiologists, nutritionists or dietitians, doctors, nurse practitioners or physician assistants. She estimates more than 1,000 people have completed Duke’s foundations course, while fewer have graduated with certification.
“We have found up to half of people who come for training return to their existing career,” says Smith. “They utilize health coaching skills for enhanced effectiveness, and the rest go on to start new jobs as health coaches.”
Although difficult to assess, you can expect annual salaries for this job to run approximately $20,000 and $60,000—and of course some coaches make much more and some less. You’ll work for health plans, hospitals, physician practices, corporations, and with individual clients. One thing’s for sure: You’ll make a difference in people’s lives.
The options noted above aren’t the only ones available for pursuing a health coach career. Don’t miss our fabulous job opportunities for health coaches here on Monster.