Through counseling and positive encouragement, health coaches teach people to change unhealthy behaviors and to adopt new, more health-promoting ones. Unlike doctors, nurses and other health professionals, there is no standard set of educational requirements for health coaches. It's the same for personal trainers; to obtain a certification, you can choose from any number of certifying organizations.
Start looking online and you'll probably find a dizzying number of organizations that offer health coach certifications. Obtaining certification means you've completed a certain amount of training and passed a certification exam. Beyond that, each organization offering certification has its own protocols and prerequisites. Certifying organizations include the American Council on Exercise, Mayo Clinic's Wellness Coach Training, the Center for Integrative Nutrition, Duke Integrative Medicine and a host of other hospital and private organizations. Some programs include online or study books; others require you to attend a series of classes in person. Training typically lasts several weeks or months. Ask yourself whether you're the type of student who's most successful when working with others, or whether self-study is more your cup of tea. Then choose a program that works best for your schedule and study preferences. If you're hoping to work for a specific organization, such as a certain hospital or health system, check on the requirements for hiring, as some organizations may only recognize certain certifications.
The Health Professional Track
Generally, health coaches come from one of two backgrounds: either a health background or a fitness background. If you're a health professional, you'll already have a background in exercise physiology and nutrition that can help you do well on a health coach exam. Your previous experience and credentials may also be a prerequisite for acceptance into a health coach training program. For the health coach certification from the American Council on Exercise, for example, an associate degree in fitness, health care, exercise science or a related field qualifies you to sit for the certification exam.
Fitness Professional Track
Another way to qualify for a health coach training program is to be a personal trainer, strength coach or other fitness professional. Once again, your prior training in physiology, anatomy and nutrition will give you a solid background to start. Wherever you start, the training program you choose will likely delve into forming solid relationships with clients, enacting behavior change strategies, understanding the neuroscience behind behavior change and learning methods for successful coaching. You might study using books, flash cards, online quizzes, in-person lectures or any number of other study aids.
The Work World
After your study period, you'll typically take a written exam, pay a fee and receive your certificate. To stay current, you may have to take continuing education classes through your certifying organization. Look for work as a health coach in hospital health systems, at local fitness centers or community centers, or senior centers and assisted living facilities. You might also begin by taking on private clients and slowly building your own business. If you're already a health professional, simply start letting your clients know that you've received additional training that can help them become healthier.