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Health Educators, Please Stop “Educating”

health educatorAn article recently released by Money investigated current economic trends to predict the fastest growing jobs. I was excited to see that one of the “best jobs you’ve never heard of” is a Health Educator.

I have been a practicing Health Educator since 2004 and have witnessed the demand for these professionals increase over the last decade. (To become a credentialed Health Educator go to www.nchec.org.) With this growth comes great responsibility, and I want to see more Health Educators achieve meaningful change for the populations they serve.

When I stepped into the field 10 years ago, my first job involved providing pregnancy prevention education to teenage girls at a Chicago high school. I was given a curriculum to teach, and I was prepared and enthusiastic. On paper, it would appear that the program was a success. The students learned the information, they liked the class, and they stated that they would change their behaviors. We even received special recognition from the overseeing clinic. But looking back now, I believe that, ultimately, the program was a failure.

It failed because I did not really get to know my students. I did not create the space to listen to their stories. What were their values, beliefs and visions for their lives? I did all of the talking, teaching and advising. That is what I thought health education was, but I was so wrong.

At EHS, I learned the secret to cultivating true engagement and behavior change. It is not found in a fancy brochure (like the ones I spent hours designing) or in a 5-pound glob of fat (a common visual health educators use). I learned that true engagement occurs when Health Educators stop educating and start listening.

I challenge all Health Educators to tune in with those they serve more. Ask yourself, how can I truly serve this population? Am I supporting them in achieving meaningful change? Ditch the poster boards and the “Jar of Tar” (Health Educators will know what this is). If engagement is lacking, these superficial interventions are ineffective.

Health Educators are predicted to grow at a rapid rate of 21% by 2022. There are at least 12,000 of us today and many more to come tomorrow. Let’s get intentional with our approach because this is a huge responsibility. Imagine how we can change the world if we focus on connecting with people on a human level – not on a student and teacher level where one is broken and the other is the savior. Health Educators, please stop “educating” and engage with your students at a deeper level. Serve your population with your heart.

If you agree, please like and share with fellow Health Educators.

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Inspired by Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen

Image: Intel Free Press

Laura Coulton, MCHES, Manager, Navigator

Laura Coulton, MCHES, Manager, Navigator

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