Public health education and promotion aims to advance knowledge of public health measures and implement the most effective strategies for health promotion. The goal of public health education and promotion is to strengthen public health infrastructure and systems. It is based on the premise that educating the public, policymakers, and workforce professionals is fundamental to ensuring an effective public health system.
The purpose of public health education and health promotion is to help individuals make better health choices; to help health professionals more effectively engage in evidence-based practices; and to help societies protect and promote population health through programming and policy initiatives.
Public health education and promotion also focuses on building evidence regarding how to teach and what to teach so as to effectively reach different populations with messages that are pertinent to public health. In order to build effective bodies of knowledge in public health, public health education and health promotion must be focused not only health promotion for individuals and populations, but education for the current and future workforces, as well.
Professionals in public health education and health promotion are responsible for coordinating population-based health education and promotion interventions and programs using evidence-based approaches. As such, these public health experts and specialists:
- Provide guidance and direct assistance through planning, implementation, and evaluation of population-based health education and promotion interventions
- Partner with community groups, organizations, and coalitions to support strategies that promote public health
What is Public Health Promotion?
Health promotion, as a behavioral social science, is a combination of the biological, environmental, psychological, physical, and medical sciences. The goal of health promotion is to promote health and prevent disease, disability, and premature death through education-driven behaviors and related activities. Communities and populations, through positive health promotion strategies, are able to improve their knowledge, attitudes, skills, and behaviors.
Health promotion is crucial to public health because:
- It improves the health status of individuals, families, communities, and populations.
- It enhances the quality of life for populations.
- It reduces premature deaths.
- It reduces costs incurred by individuals, employers, families, insurance companies, medical facilities, communities, state, and the nation as a whole
What is Public Health Education?
Public health education is focused on helping groups of people, whether they are a small community group or a large population of people. The work of public health educators is accomplished through the development and implementation of educational campaigns and programs that are designed to promote healthy environments, habits, and behaviors.
Public health educators, who may work either as teachers or as behind-the-scenes administrators or program developers, are responsible for:
- Assessing individual and community needs
- Managing health education programs and personnel
- Writing grants and finding proposals
- Evaluating health education programs
- Developing social marketing and media campaigns
- Utilizing a variety of educational/training methods
- Conducting research
- Writing scholarly journals
- Developing educational methods
- Coordinating, promoting, and evaluating programs
The work of public health educators may be focused on any number of public health issues, such as:
- Disease prevention
- Emotional/mental health
- Environmental health
- First aid
- Human growth and development
- Nutrition and eating issues
- Safety and disaster preparedness
- Sexual health
- Substance abuse prevention
Public health educators working for health insurers and private companies may provide counseling, programs, or education services related to:
- Physical fitness
- Smoking cessation
- Stress management
- Substance abuse prevention
- Weight control
They may also help companies meet occupational health and safety regulations and identify community health resources for employees.
In community organizations and government agencies, public health educators are called upon to identify a community’s needs and mobilize strategies and resources for improving the health status of the community.
Degrees for Professionals in Public Health Education and Promotion
Professionals in health promotion and health education may be experts in health education, such as health and wellness coordinators, or they may perform public health education and promotion functions as part of their primary profession. For example, medical professionals, social workers, physical therapists, and oral hygienists may perform public health education and promotion activities.
Health and education professionals from other disciplines are not, in general, familiar with the specialized body of knowledge, skills, theories, and research required to perform public health education and promotion activities; therefore, this type of work requires specialized study through a degree program in public health.
Undergraduate degrees for professional in public health education often include bachelor degrees in public health and health promotion. Many schools also offer a Bachelor of Science in Public Health Education or a Bachelor of Science in Public Health with a concentration in public health education.
Many professionals in public health education choose to pursue graduate work, and one of today’s most recognized programs in public health education is the Master of Public Health (MPH) in Community Health Education.
This professional preparation degree program is designed for students interested in careers in the development and management of population-based health promotion and disease prevention activities within communities. Ideal for professionals of many different types of backgrounds, the MPH in Community Health Education allows students to receive academic preparation in the major areas of public health, including biostatistics, epidemiology, statistics, environmental health, and health policy, while providing a specialized focus as to prepare them to become community health education practitioners.
Most of these programs offer classroom, field experience, and professional development experiences in the core areas of public health education, which include:
- Program planning
- Administration and management
- Communication and advocacy
Professional Certification in Public Health Education and Promotion
The Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) and Master Certified Health Education Specialist (MCHES) designations through the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing have become valuable and distinguished credentials for professionals involved in public health education.
Eligibility to take the CHES examination is based exclusively on academic qualifications. Specifically, applicants must possess a bachelor degree or higher and at least one of the following:
- A degree in health education, such as:
- Health education
- Community health education
- Public health education
- School health education
- A degree in another area of study, along with at least 25 semester hours of coursework with specific preparation that addresses the seven areas of responsibility and competency for health educators
Applicants must possess the following to qualify for the MCHES credential:
- At least 5 years as a CHES; or
- A master’s degree or higher in health education, public health education, school health education, community health education, etc. and at least 5 years of documented experience as a health education specialist
- A master’s degree in another area, along with at least 25 semester hours of coursework in the seven areas of responsibility of health education specialists and at least 5 years of documented experience as a health education specialist
Both the CHES and MCHES designations are valid for a period of 5 years.
Who Provides Public Health Promotion and Public Health Education? Jobs in Public Health Education and Promotion
Public health education and promotion is a large, interdisciplinary field that includes professionals from a wide variety of backgrounds. Some of the most recognizable careers in public health education and promotion include:
Public Health Nurses
Public health nurses (often also called community nurses) are registered nurses who educate the public about health and safety-related issues. These nursing professionals are responsible for assessing health and safety issues that affect specific communities or populations and administering healthcare services and advocating for healthcare improvement.
More information on public health nursing and the necessary requirements to become a public health nurse can be found here. (I thought we’d link to the public health nurse information on the Medical Practice piece).
Public Health Educators
Public health educators are responsible for teaching people about behaviors that promote wellness. These public health professionals are also responsible for developing and implementing strategies for improving the health of specific communities and populations.
Public health educators may go by a number of professional titles, such as:
- Health educator
- Health promotion specialist
- Community health consultant
- Community health education coordinator
- Health and wellness coordinator
Public health educators may work directly with the public, for healthcare organizations, for community/non-profit organizations, or for government agencies, among others. They may also work in private business, academia, and for medical practices.
Their job duties, although they likely vary based on the setting in which they work, often include:
- Developing and presenting health education programs, such as training workshops, conferences, and community/school presentations
- Partnering with agencies and organizations focused on public health care
- Developing educational materials and programs for public health. government, and community agencies
- Preparing and distributing health education materials that address contemporary public health programs, such as smoking cessation, vaccinations, and maternal and infant health
Public Health Consultants
Public health consultants design and adapt public health programs that are aligned with global health policy and standards. These professionals oversee health impact assessments, which are designed to identify the potential health impact of a project on a specific community or population.
Public health consultants are also called upon to provide public health consulting, education, epidemiology, and food safety services before, during, and after a public health emergency or crisis.
Public health nutritionists coordinate and implement nutrition policies and programs for health department programs, such as the nutrition program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). These public health professionals may also design and carry out educational programs in the general community to promote good nutrition.
Public health nutritionists have extensive knowledge of food and nutrition, policy, and the improvement of the health of populations.
Their work involves understanding how food-related public policies affect health, particularly in vulnerable populations; the ways in which programs can improve the nutritional status of a specific population or community; and how social, behavioral, and food/nutrition-related factors affect health.