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Health and Patient Advocacy Careers: Health Coach

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Updated May 30, 2012

Just like a sports coach helps shape behaviors to improve his team, a health coach helps shape a client's behavior to help him or her manage their health, and the lifestyle choices they make that affect their health. Among those managed activities will be eating, drinking, smoking, exercise, sleep and other habits people have developed that need improvement.

Most of a health coach's focus is on wellness, and maintaining wellness - as opposed to most other patient advocates who are focused on helping a patient transition through a medical problem. Some health coaches call themselves "wellness coaches" or "lifestyle coaches."

In some cases, however, health coaches may also help patients with chronic medical problems. They may help a diabetes patient keep her blood sugar under control, or help a heart patient recover from a cardiac event.

In all cases, health coaches will tell you they focus on educating and motivating their clients. Their goal is to help change those behaviors that have a negative impact on their client's health and longevity.

Here is a list of services a health coach might offer:

  • weight loss coaching
  • improved nutrition (changing food choices)
  • exercise management
  • smoking cessation
  • stress management
  • diabetes prevention or management (through food choices)
  • heart disease prevention or management

Some health coaches will concentrate on one area of expertise. For example, they may focus solely on nutritional eating, or integrative or holistic wellness.

While the work of most patient advocates involves some sort of facilitation between the patient-client and another professional or facility (doctor, nurse, rehab center, nursing home, etc), a health coach may need to work only with the client, and not as a facilitator between the client and another professional.

Health coaches may need to be in the same location as the patient (for example, at the gym or in the supermarket) or they sometimes can do their coaching by phone or text if their physical presence is unnecessary for the support they provide.

Like most patient advocate careers, health coaching is relatively new. It seems to have its roots in the type of therapy and assistance that was provided, and worked successfully, for people dealing with alchoholism. Because the therapist, or coach, was available to help assist the person when and whenever help was needed, success rates were higher. That constant availability is what health coaching seems to rest its success on.

Who Hires a Health Coach?

Health coaches are hired by individuals and organizations. Many health coaches are in business for themselves, working with individual patients on a daily, weekly or less frequent basis.

Large companies hire health coaches and offer their services as an employee benefit.

Some health insurers are hiring health coaches for their insured customers to access, as a recognition that wellness can keep their medical care costs down.

Qualifications for Becoming a Health Coach

The qualifications for becoming a health coach vary by the organization or individual that will hire you. For example, if you hope to get a job as a health coach for an insurance company, you'll likely need a healthcare background and a successful track record as a health coach from previous experience.

If you plan to go into business as a health coach for yourself, you may not need any particular background except a knowledge of the health problems people are trying to avoid, and how to educate and motivate them to avoid those problems.

There are dozens of "health coaching institutes" and courses online, some of which may offer an excellent education, and others promising you can charge hundreds of dollars per hour for your health coach services without ever leaving your home. Be sure to review all potential courses you might take carefully. Like any service, some are probably scams, or at least can offer no proof that you can make great amounts of money by taking their courses.

Health Coach Certification

A group called the National Society of Health Coaches provides a health coaching certification for people who are already licensed healthcare practitioners in some other field.

Many of the health coaching educational courses mentioned above offer certificates of completion, but just like is true for other forms of patient advocacy, there does not seem to be any other nationally recognized certification for health coaches.

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