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Public Health Nursing: Health Education and Promotion

Written by Steve Belcher

A big part of public health work is promoting health. Health promotion is considered a behavioral social science. It involves elements of medicine, psychology, environmental science, and biology. The purpose of health promotion is to prevent disease and disability and prevent premature deaths through educating people about making changes to their lifestyle and environment. Health promotion professionals strive to reach individuals, groups, the larger community, and society as a whole through a variety of methods and strategies. Public health nursing plays a vital role in health education and promotion.

Why Is Health Promotion Important?

The purpose of health promotion is to improve health at every level of society and improve people's quality of life. It also helps prevent needless or premature deaths. The benefits of health promotion help reduce health-care costs for families, employers, states, and the federal government. Health promotion also helps make sure that the populace can attend school and work instead of becoming disabled for preventable reasons. Health educators are a vital part of health promotion and work alongside specialties like nursing to inform patients and improve care.

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Where Are Health Educators Employed?

Heath educators are employed in a wide variety of sectors. For example, some work at schools and universities to help students learn about better health. Educators employed by school districts often develop curricula and materials that promote health and healthy lifestyles. They also may evaluate existing health promotion programs and coordinate between schools. Other health educators implement health plans at schools or other organizations that combine health education, community partnerships, and incentives to make healthy lifestyle changes.

Educators employed by colleges and universities work to foster a college community that supports students and staff in living healthy lives. Their job tasks include identifying unmet needs in their community, advocating for more health education opportunities, and organizing events with the entire community. They also may train students to act as peer educators and develop and teach college-level courses.

Health educators employed in the private sector can have a variety of job duties. For example, they might conduct employee health risk assessments and then develop programs that address issues that impact many of the company's employees. Common programs developed and led by health educators focus on stress management, nutrition, weight control, physical fitness, smoking cessation, and substance abuse prevention. These educators might also help develop partnerships with community organizations that will benefit employees. Often, they are also asked to help the company comply with occupational safety and health guidelines.

Hospitals and other health-care organizations also employ health educators. The work health educators do in the clinical setting is wide-ranging. They develop programs and activities for high-risk patients. They also plan and give a variety of staff training. And they consult with other health professionals to find ways to help patients overcome barriers to good health that include behavioral, cultural, or environmental elements. They also seek out grants and write proposals to fund their work.

Governments also employ health educators, who analyze data to help identify an area's needs and then apply their skills to come up with programs to help address these needs. Most of their time is spent doing community outreach, developing programs, and writing grants for money to implement new programs. Nursing professionals often do some of this work.

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Health Promotion and Education Training

Some medical professionals undertake health promotion and education duties as part of their overall scope of practice. For example, nurses often do some health promotion and education work, especially public health nurses. Social workers, physical therapists, and oral hygienists are other professionals who often do health education as part of their duties. However, health promotion is a specialized field. More than 250 universities in the United States offer both undergraduate and graduate degrees in the field. The National Commission for Health Education Credentialing (NCHEC) offers the opportunity for educators to become a Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES). Core competencies include needs assessments, program planning, evaluation, implementation, coordination of services, and health education effectiveness.

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