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 education-driven voluntary behavior change activities. Health education is the development of individual, group, institutional, community and systemic strategies to improve health knowledge, attitudes, skills and behavior. The purpose of health education is to positively influence the health behavior of individuals and communities as well as the living and working conditions that influence their health.
Public health educators provide wellness information to the public about health and safety concerns that may be specific to that community. They often work with other professionals in healthcare and the public health department to identify and address trends within a population. Public health educators inform the public about prevention measures, but also help to educate people about access to services and treatment.
Where are health educators employed?
- In schools, health educators teach health as a subject and promote and implement Coordinated School Health Programs, including health services, student, staff and parent health education, and promote healthy school environments and school-community partnerships. At the school district level they develop education methods and materials; coordinate, promote, and evaluate programs; and write funding proposals.
- Working on a college/university campus, health educators are part of a team working to create an environment in which students feel empowered to make healthy choices and create a caring community. They identify needs; advocate and do community organizing; teach whole courses or individual classes; develop mass media campaigns; and train peer educators, counselors, and/or advocates. They address issues related to disease prevention; consumer, environmental, emotional, sexual health; first aid, safety and disaster preparedness; substance abuse prevention; human growth and development; and nutrition and eating issues. They may manage grants and conduct research.
- In companies, health educators perform or coordinate employee counseling as well as education services, employee health risk appraisals, and health screenings. They design, promote, lead and/or evaluate programs about weight control, hypertension, nutrition, substance abuse prevention, physical fitness, stress management and smoking cessation; develop educational materials; and write grants for money to support these projects. They help companies meet occupational health and safety regulations, work with the media, and identify community health resources for employees.
- In health care settings, health educators educate patients about medical procedures, operations, services and therapeutic regimens; create activities and incentives to encourage use of services by high risk patients; conduct staff training and consult with other health care providers about behavioral, cultural or social barriers to health; promote self-care; develop activities to improve patient participation on clinical processes; educate individuals to protect, promote or maintain their health and reduce risky behaviors; make appropriate community-based referrals; and write grants.
- In community organizations and government agencies, health educators help a community identify its needs, draw upon its problem-solving abilities and mobilize its resources to develop, promote, implement and evaluate strategies to improve its own health status. Health educators do community organizing and outreach, grant writing, coalition building, advocacy, and develop, produce, and evaluate mass media health campaigns.
Qualities of A Good Public Health Educator
There are specific qualities of a public health educator that makes him or her stand out among the crowd, these professional and personal skills are vital for the achievement of the goals of public health education, these qualities include:
- Good Communication skills: As a good a public health educator you will need to be able to impart information in both a written and verbal format. This will require that you can clearly address issues in a manner that can be understood by a wide demographic.
- Good Teaching skills: This is one of the most important qualities of a good public health educator. You will need to be comfortable with presentations in front of groups. You will also need to be engaging while you are being informative and connect with people on a number of educational levels.
- Good Interpersonal skills: As a good public health educator you will be working with other professionals in the healthcare field, but you will also be interacting with a wide variety of individuals in the public. This will require that you can build trust and connection.
- Good Organizational Skills: Organizational skills are the abilities that let you stay focused on different tasks, and use your time, energy, strength, mental capacity, physical space, etc. effectively and efficiently in order to achieve the desired outcome. As a good public health educator you will need to keep track of the outcomes of your teaching as well as the information you are giving.
Characteristics of an Effective Health Education Curriculum
Today’s state-of-the-art health education curricula reflect the growing body of research that emphasizes:
- Teaching functional health information (essential knowledge).
- Shaping personal values and beliefs that support healthy behaviors.
- Shaping group norms that value a healthy lifestyle.
- Developing the essential health skills necessary to adopt, practice, and maintain health-enhancing behaviors.
Less effective curricula often overemphasize teaching scientific facts and increasing student knowledge.
Health education presents information to target populations on particular health topics, including the health benefits/threats they face, and provides tools to build capacity and support behavior change in an appropriate setting.
Examples of health education activities include:
Characteristics of health education strategies include:
- Participation of the target population.
- Completion of a community needs assessment to identify community capacity, resources, priorities, and needs.
- Planned learning activities that increase participants’ knowledge and skills.
- Implementation of programs with integrated, well-planned curricula and materials that take place in a setting convenient for participants.
- Presentation of information with audiovisual and computer based supports such as slides and projectors, videos, books, CDs, posters, pictures, websites, or software programs.
- Ensuring proficiency of program staff, through training, to maintain fidelity to the program model.
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