How Can I Become a Patient Educator?

Research what it takes to become a patient educator. Find out more about education requirements, job responsibilities, and possible earnings in this field. Schools offering Adult Education degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Patient Educator?

A patient educator, sometimes called a patient navigator, is a health educator who works in a healthcare facility like a medical institution or a community health clinic. They may consult directly with individual patients and their families to help them understand the medical care that they are being given, as well as to connect them with outside resources, like support groups. Patient educators may also organize more general campaigns to educate the public as a whole about health-related topics, such as the importance of cancer screenings and vaccinations.

The following chart gives an overview of what you need to know before entering this field.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree; graduate degree needed for advancement
Education Field of Study Health education
Key Responsibilities Explain medical tests, diagnoses, and prescribed treatments to patients; organize community classes
Job Growth (2014-2024) 12% all health educators*
Median Annual Wage (2017) $58,555 patient/health educator**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **PayScale

Educational Training for Patient Educators

If you'd like a career as a patient educator, you can begin by obtaining a bachelor's degree in health education. Your curriculum will include courses such as physiology, communications in healthcare, psychology, anatomy, consumer health, human development and holistic health studies. Some bachelor's programs require completion of an internship with a local health organization.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a graduate degree may be required for advancement into managerial or supervisory roles in health education (www.bls.gov). A master's program in health promotion or public health education might offer courses like health information technology, quantitative methods, environmental health, program planning practice and personal health promotion. Completion of a research-based thesis paper is often required to earn a master's degree.

What Job Duties Might I Have?

As a patient educator, you might be responsible for explaining medical testing procedures, diagnoses, prescribed treatments and any resulting after-effects to patients. You might help a patient make lifestyle changes that could positively impact his or her health. You could also refer patients to social service programs or support groups to facilitate their recovery.

In some cases, you might put together educational pamphlets for distribution through community health organizations. Some patient or health educators organize educational classes on disease prevention as well as health and wellness topics.

What's the Career Outlook?

According to the BLS, health educators work in secondary and postsecondary schools, community health agencies, medical facilities and private businesses. The number of employed health educators was anticipated to increase by 12% between 2014 and 2024, attributed to an increased awareness of health and wellness. By educating others about healthy lifestyle choices, health educators can help improve the overall health and reduce healthcare costs.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Instead of working as a patient educator, you could choose to pursue a position as a health educator in a different environment, such as a for-profit business. Depending on the industry, these professionals educate employees about the possible health risks of working at a specific company. They may also organize incentive programs that reward employees for healthy behaviors, such as exercising or quitting smoking. You need to have a bachelor's degree for this job. If you are interested in advising clients about healthy lifestyle habits, you could also consider becoming a dietitian. Dietitians create meal plans that can help people meet specific health goals, like weight loss or improved athletic performance. You need to have a bachelor's degree for this job, and some states also require dietitians to be licensed.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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