Melissa Opp, MPH, MCHES®, National Commission for Health Education Credentialing, Inc.
The U.S. Department of Labor defines health educators as those that provide and manage health education programs that help individuals, families, and their communities maximize and maintain healthy lifestyles. They are a separate classification from Community Health Workers (CHWs), due to differing degree requirements and academic background.
Health educators, also known as Health Education Specialists, are active in communities large and small across the United States addressing needs for health education programs, planning effective programs, analyzing community data, and encouraging healthy lifestyles, policies, and environments. Health Education Specialists work in many different sectors of the public health workforce, including hospitals and clinics, government, insurance companies, community organizations, non-profits, schools, and universities. Moreover, investments by the federal government in the research and work across the continuum of public health, includes the work of Health Education Specialists in these various settings.
What is a CHES®?
Certified Health Education Specialists, also known as CHES® and MCHES® (master-level), are academically trained public and community health education professionals who have demonstrated skills and knowledge through a comprehensive and nationally recognized examination process and continuing education requirements. Certification is a quality-assurance mechanism that assists with meeting public expectations about the competence of practitioners in the field of health education and promotion.
Although the term "specialist" signifies a niche or singular role, this is truly not the case. CHES® and MCHES® work in an array of career sectors and carry out a multitude of tasks that require specific knowledge and competency gained through years of academic and professional preparation. CHES® individuals provide valuable expertise such as program planning, implementation, and evaluation, strong communication skills, knowledge of ethical best-practices, and concrete theoretical knowledge of health education and promotion. According to the Health Director at the Tulsa Health Department in Tulsa, Oklahoma, their organization benefits from hiring CHES® and MCHES® because they provide the credibility to enhance their public health programs in many different ways.
The Role of CHES® and MCHES® in Public Health Education
The value of Certified Health Education Specialists lies in their unique academic training, at the undergraduate or graduate-level, which has been verified through transcript review. CHES® and MCHES® can bring a distinct skillset to the table, including a broader perspective on public and community health. This type of specialist training is not often found in a clinical background. They create, administer and evaluate all manner of public health programming, as well as deliver advocacy, behavior change, and communication skills that go far above the norm. Agencies and programs that support the work of CHES® and MCHES® are those that are supported by the Coalition for Health Funding, and collectively, efforts to secure funds for these programs result in overall better health and well-being of individuals and communities.
According to Kathy Janes Jinkins, Associate Director of Patient Education at MD Anderson Cancer Center, “the use of CHES®/MCHES® certified employees supports the mission of MD Anderson Cancer Center by educating patients to make informed decisions and to better communicate with their medical team about their diagnosis and treatment, which results in better outcomes for patients. By using credentialed individuals to deliver these messages, it strengthens the message to patients and the community and shows MD Anderson’s belief that well-prepared, well-credentialed employees make a difference.”