Health Education Specialists and Community Health Workers

Career, Salary and Education Information

What They Do: Health education specialists teach people about behaviors that promote wellness. Community health workers collect data and discuss health concerns with members of specific populations or communities.

Work Environment: Health education specialists and community health workers work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, nonprofit organizations, government, doctors’ offices, private businesses, and colleges. They generally work full time.

How to Become One: Health education specialists need at least bachelor’s degree. Many employers require the Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) credential. Community health workers typically need to have at least a high school diploma and must complete a brief period of on-the-job training. Some states have certification programs for community health workers.

Salary: The median annual wage for community health workers is $46,590. The median annual wage for health education specialists is $60,600.

Job Outlook: Overall employment of health education specialists and community health workers is projected to grow 12 percent over the next ten years, much faster than the average for all occupations.

Related Careers: Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of health education specialists and community health workers with similar occupations.

Following is everything you need to know about a career as a health educator or community health worker with lots of details. As a first step, take a look at some of the following jobs, which are real jobs with real employers. You will be able to see the very real job career requirements for employers who are actively hiring. The link will open in a new tab so that you can come back to this page to continue reading about the career:

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What Health Education Specialists and Community Health Workers Do[About this section] [To Top]

Health education specialists teach people about behaviors that promote wellness. They develop and implement strategies to improve the health of individuals and communities. Community health workers provide a link between the community and healthcare professionals. They develop and implement strategies to improve the health of individuals and communities. They collect data and discuss health concerns with members of specific populations or communities. Although the two occupations often work together, responsibilities of health education specialists and community health workers are distinct.

Duties of Health Education Specialists and Community Health Workers

Health education specialists typically do the following:

  • Assess the health needs of the people and communities they serve
  • Develop programs, materials, and events to teach people about health topics
  • Teach people how to manage existing health conditions
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of programs and educational materials
  • Help people find health services or information
  • Provide training programs for community health workers or other health professionals
  • Supervise staff who implement health education programs
  • Collect and analyze data to learn about a particular community and improve programs and services
  • Advocate for improved health resources and policies that promote health

Community health workers typically do the following:

  • Discuss health concerns with community members
  • Educate people about the importance and availability of healthcare services, such as cancer screenings
  • Collect data
  • Report findings to health education specialists and other healthcare providers
  • Provide informal counseling and social support
  • Conduct outreach programs
  • Facilitate access to the healthcare services
  • Advocate for individual and community needs

Health education specialists, also known as health educators, have different duties depending on their work setting. Most work in healthcare facilities, colleges, public health departments, nonprofits, and private businesses. People who teach health classes in middle and high schools are considered teachers. For more information, see the profiles on middle school teachers and high school teachers.

The following are descriptions of duties for health education specialists, by work setting:

  • In healthcare facilities, health education specialists may work one-on-one with patients or with their families. They may be called patient navigators because they help consumers understand their health insurance options and direct people to outside resources, such as support groups or home health agencies. They teach patients about their diagnoses and about any necessary treatments or procedures. They lead hospital efforts in developing and administering surveys to identify major health issues and concerns of the surrounding communities and developing programs to meet those needs. Health education specialists also help organize health screenings, such as blood pressure checks, and classes on topics such as installing a car seat correctly. They also create programs to train medical staff to interact more effectively with patients.
  • In colleges, health education specialists create programs and materials on topics that affect young adults, such as smoking and alcohol use. They may train students to be peer educators and supervise the students' delivery of health information in person or through social media. Health education specialists also advocate for campus wide policies to promote health.
  • In public health departments, health education specialists administer public health campaigns on topics such as emergency preparedness, immunizations, proper nutrition, or stress management. They develop materials to be used by other public health officials. During emergencies, they may provide safety information to the public and the media. Some health education specialists work with other professionals to create public policies that support healthy behaviors and environments. They may also oversee grants and grant-funded programs to improve the health of the public. Some participate in statewide and local committees dealing with topics such as aging.
  • In nonprofits, health education specialists create programs and materials about health issues faced by the community that they serve. They help organizations obtain funding and other resources. They educate policymakers about ways to improve public health and work on securing grant funding for programs to promote health and disease awareness. Many nonprofits focus on a particular disease or audience, so health education specialists in these organizations limit programs to that specific topic or audience.
  • In private businesses, health education specialists identify common health problems among employees and create programs to improve health. They work to develop incentives for employees to adopt healthy behaviors, such as losing weight or controlling cholesterol. Health education specialists recommend changes in the workplace to improve employee health, such as creating smoke-free areas.

Community health workers have an in-depth knowledge of the communities they serve. Within their community, they identify health-related issues, collect data, and discuss health concerns with the people they serve. For example, they may help eligible residents of a neighborhood enroll in programs such as Medicaid or Medicare and explain the benefits that these programs offer. Community health workers address any barriers to care and provide referrals for such needs as food, housing, education, and mental health services

Community health workers share information with health education specialists and healthcare providers so that health education specialists can create new programs or adjust existing programs or events to better suit the needs of the community. Community health workers also advocate for the health needs of community members. In addition, they conduct outreach to engage community residents, assist residents with health system navigation, and to improve care coordination.

Work Environment for Health Education Specialists and Community Health Workers[About this section] [To Top]

Community health workers hold about 67,000 jobs. The largest employers of community health workers are as follows:

Government 20%
Individual and family services 15%
Religious, grantmaking, civic, professional, and similar organizations 12%
Outpatient care centers 8%
Hospitals; state, local, and private 8%

Health education specialists hold about 59,600 jobs. The largest employers of health education specialists are as follows:

Government 26%
Hospitals; state, local, and private 17%
Outpatient care centers 7%
Individual and family services 6%
Religious, grantmaking, civic, professional, and similar organizations 6%

Although most health education specialists work in offices, they may spend a lot of time away from the office to carry out programs or attend meetings.

Community health workers may spend much of their time in the field, communicating with community members, holding events, and collecting data.

Health Education Specialist and Community Health Worker Work Schedules

Most health education specialists and community health workers work full time. They may need to work nights and weekends to attend programs or meetings.

How to Become a Health Education Specialist or Community Health Worker[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Health Education Specialists and Community Health Workers near you!

Health education specialists need at least bachelor's degree. Some employers require the Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) credential.

Community health workers need at least a high school diploma and must complete a brief period of on-the-job training. Some states have certification programs for community health workers.

Education for Health Education Specialists and Community Health Workers

Health education specialists need at least a bachelor's degree in health education or health promotion. Students learn theories and methods of health behavior and health education and gain the knowledge and skills they will need to develop health education materials and programs. Most programs include an internship.

Some health education specialist positions require candidates to have a master's or doctoral degree. Graduate programs are commonly in community health education, school health education, public health education, or health promotion. A variety of undergraduate majors may be acceptable for entry to a master's degree program.

Community health workers need at least a high school diploma, although some jobs may require some postsecondary education. Education programs may lead to a 1-year certificate or a 2-year associate's degree and cover topics such as wellness, ethics, and cultural awareness.

Health Education Specialist and Community Health Worker Training

Community health workers typically complete a brief period of on-the-job training. Training often covers core competencies, such as communication or outreach skills, and information about the specific health topics that they will be focusing on. For example, community health workers who work with Alzheimer's patients may learn about how to communicate effectively with patients dealing with dementia.

Other Experience for Health Education Specialists and Community Health Workers

Community health workers usually have some knowledge of a specific community, culture, medical condition, or disability. The ability to speak a foreign language may be helpful.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations for Health Education Specialists and Community Health Workers

Some employers require health education specialists to obtain the Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) credential, which is offered by the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing, Inc.

Candidates must pass an exam that is aimed at entry-level health education specialists who have completed at least a bachelor's degree. To maintain their certification, they must complete 75 hours of continuing education every 5 years. There is also the Master Certified Health Education Specialist (MCHES) credential for health education specialists with advanced education and experience.

Most states do not require community health workers to obtain certification, however, voluntary certification exists or is being considered or developed in a number of states. Requirements vary but may include completing an approved training program. For more information, contact your state's board of health, nursing, or human services.

Important Qualities for Health Education Specialists and Community Health Workers

Analytical skills. Health education specialists collect and analyze data in order to evaluate programs and to determine the needs of the people they serve.

Instructional skills. Health education specialists and community health workers should be comfortable with public speaking so that they can lead programs, teach classes, and facilitate discussion with clients and families.

Interpersonal skills. Health education specialists and community health workers interact with many people from a variety of backgrounds. They must be good listeners and be culturally sensitive to respond to the needs of the people they serve.

Problem-solving skills. Health education specialists and community health workers must think creatively about how to improve the health of the community through health education programs. In addition, they may need to solve problems that arise in planning programs, such as changes to their budget or resistance from the community they are serving.

Writing skills. Health education specialists and community health workers develop written materials to convey health-related information. Health education specialists also write proposals to develop programs and apply for funding.

Health Education Specialist and Community Health Worker Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for community health workers is $46,590. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $30,440, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $70,720.

The median annual wage for health education specialists is $60,600. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $37,020, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $102,480.

The median annual wages for community health workers in the top industries in which they work are as follows:

Hospitals; state, local, and private $49,240
Government $47,400
Religious, grantmaking, civic, professional, and similar organizations $46,910
Outpatient care centers $39,600
Individual and family services $38,700

The median annual wages for health education specialists in the top industries in which they work are as follows:

Hospitals; state, local, and private $76,450
Government $60,670
Outpatient care centers $54,060
Religious, grantmaking, civic, professional, and similar organizations $49,300
Individual and family services $47,040

Most health education specialists and community health workers work full time. They may need to work nights and weekends to attend programs or meetings.

Job Outlook for Health Education Specialists and Community Health Workers[About this section] [To Top]

Overall employment of health education specialists and community health workers is projected to grow 12 percent over the next ten years, much faster than the average for all occupations.

About 16,000 openings for health education specialists and community health workers are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

Employment of Health Education Specialists and Community Health Workers

An emphasis on promoting healthy behaviors, particularly based on experiences from the COVID-19 pandemic, is expected to increase demand for these workers over the decade.

Governments, healthcare providers, and social services providers want to find ways to improve the quality of care and health outcomes while reducing costs. This should increase demand for health education specialists and community health workers to teach people about health and wellness, which in turn can help to prevent costly diseases and medical procedures.

Employment projections data for Health Education Specialists and Community Health Workers, 2021-31
Occupational Title Employment, 2021 Projected Employment, 2031 Change, 2021-31
Percent Numeric
Health education specialists and community health workers 126,700 141,900 12 15,200
  Health education specialists 59,600 64,200 8 4,500
  Community health workers 67,000 77,700 16 10,600


A portion of the information on this page is used by permission of the U.S. Department of Labor.


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