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How to Become a Health Coach: A Complete Guide for 2023

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If you’re wellness-minded, finding a career path that encompasses all facets of health can be challenging.

After all, a dietician focuses on food, a fitness trainer focuses on clients’ physical fitness through exercise, and a therapist works with how behavioral elements affect people’s abilities to develop healthy habits.

Thankfully, health and wellness coaching combines all three disciplines. It’s not just about getting in shape or losing a few extra pounds, it’s about studying human behavior and using this knowledge to reach a state of general well-being.

Here’s how to become a health coach and earn your health coaching certification in four steps, as well as any associated costs you need to secure in the process.

An Overview of Health Coaching: A Primer

Health coaching is an umbrella term for health education specialists who work with clients in moderate to good physical health to achieve their wellness and fitness goals. They help clients, either individually or in a group, using accountability and frequent check-ins to keep them on the right track.

Using the services of a health coach isn’t a substitute for receiving medical advice from healthcare practitioners.

Becoming a certified health coach doesn’t require formal education and many health coaches just finish their certification programs.

However, having a degree from academic programs in nursing, nutrition science, or physical therapy tremendously helps with finishing a health coaching program and can even help you make more money.

How Much Do Health Coaches Make?

The answer to this question depends on where the health coach works, both geographically and in what kind of setting.

According to the BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics), certified health education specialists had an average yearly income of $66,710 in May 2022. As for exercise trainers who focus on group fitness coaching, they made $50,170 in the same year.

The number varies by state, where in Georgia, the average income for a health education specialist is over $92,000, while in Texas, the figure is closer to $55,000.

What You’ll Need to Become a Health Coach [& Associated Costs]

Getting into the world of health coaching has a few requirements to earn your certification and practice the profession. They include:

  • A Degree in a Relevant Field: While you can get into health coaching as a career path without having a college degree, it makes a huge difference in your resume to have a bachelor’s degree or associate’s degree in health education, exercise science, health science, or nursing.
  • Finishing a Health Coach Certification Program: You can choose one of the many health coaching certification programs, available in your area or online, which aim to qualify you to pass the National Board Certification Exam for health coaches.
  • Passing the Board Exam: Some states don’t require certification to call yourself a health coach. However, to call yourself licensed, certified, or registered, you have to pass the qualifying exam to become a National Board Certified Health & Wellness Coach.
  • 1-3 Years of Professional Health Coach Training Experience: Once you’ve completed health coach training and earned your health coach certification, you can seek jobs or internships at local fitness centers or community health centers. That way you can gain experience on how to deal with future clients in person and online.
  • Annual or Upfront Certification Fees: Certified health coaches have to maintain their certification through a one-time upfront fee or annual fee to the board. They can also be required to complete continued education study hours in the health coaching field.
  • (Optional) Continued Education for More Specialization: With the duties that being a life coach entails, if you want to invest in your professional development, earning a postgraduate degree is the right move. It can make your health coaching business boom, especially if you focus on fields like physical therapy or holistic nutrition.

How Much Does It Cost to Become a Health Coach?

The average annual cost to earn an undergraduate degree in the school year 2020-2021, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), was $25,910. If you want to get into health coaching after completing a bachelor’s degree, the cost could surpass $100,000 for a 4-year program.

If you intend to bypass the degree and enroll in one of the many available health coaching programs, the cost varies greatly. It can start from under $500 for more affordable programs, to about $5,000 for a mainstream university’s offering.

Is It Hard to Become a Health Coach?

Choosing the health coaching career path might not be the easiest. That said, it’s a rewarding path to undertake, since the average salary exceeds the United States national average. You can also boost your earnings by obtaining health coach certification and enrolling in continuing education programs.

The flexibility of the job is also a wonderful advantage since you can make money coaching your clients online instead of working with them in person.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Health Coach?

If you intend to forgo formal education to focus on a health coaching program that doesn’t have any prerequisites, you can expect to finish it within one year.

However, you should keep in mind that some prestigious establishments, like the Health Coach Institute, only offer their programs to future health coaches who have undergrad degrees.

Since a bachelor’s degree takes four years to finish, and an associate’s degree takes at least two years, you’re looking at 3 to 5 years to obtain your health coach certification.

How to Become a Health Coach in 4 Simple Steps

Becoming a certified health coach is a relatively straightforward career path. Here are the steps you should take to venture into this field:

Step 1: Get an Undergraduate Degree

Health and wellness coaches don’t need a college degree, but it helps tremendously. Many highly-accredited institutes and universities only offer their health coaching certification programs to graduate students, and the educational journey you go through there prepares you to become a certified health coach.

Aside from learning hard skills, like human anatomy and medical basics, future health coaches also learn communication skills that help them deal with clients. These skills are invaluable when it comes to setting up your health coaching practice.

Step 2: Enroll in a Training Program

To become a certified health coach, you have to enroll in a program that prepares you for certification. These programs are completed online, on campus, or through hybrid programs with both elements.

Choose an education program approved by the National Board for Health & Wellness Coaching (NBHWC), which is the authority on health coach certification in the United States. These include the programs offered by:

  • The Institute for Integrative Nutrition
  • Dr. Sears Wellness Institute
  • Duke Health and Well-Being Coach Training
  • Precision Nutrition
  • American Council on Exercise (ACE health coach certification program)
  • Health Coach Institute
  • National Society of Health Coaches (NSHC)

Keep in mind that each program has its prerequisites, with some programs being open for applicants with no prior professional or educational experience, while others are exclusive to licensed professional health coaches or other healthcare practitioners only.

Step 3: Practice, Practice, Practice!

Before you can finish your health coach training program, you first have to complete 50 practice coaching sessions with friends, family, or non-paying clients as part of your coursework.

This step allows you to have hands-on experience when it comes to how to handle clients from different backgrounds and help them achieve their individual health goals.

Unlike traditional healthcare professionals, whose jobs only include physical aspects, like measuring a client’s blood pressure and body mass index, and making decisions based on them, yours is more layered.

You’ll be a life coach to your clients, giving them integrative health coaching solutions based on their backgrounds and individual struggles.

Utilizing tools like motivational interviewing and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), you’ll be able to affect behavior change on a deeper level.

Step 4: Get Certified as a Health Coach

To get your health coach certification, you have to pass the National Board Certification Exam. It’s a 4.5-hour, multiple-choice-question exam that requires extensive knowledge of your training course material.

Once you pass the written exam, you’ll receive your health coach certification, and you’re ready to start your health coaching business!

Reasons to Consider Becoming a Health Coach

Becoming a health coach requires significant time and effort, so the job needs to justify this investment. Here’s why you should consider health coaching as a career choice:

  • A Rewarding Career Path: With the average health coach making slightly more than the national average annual salary, health coaching is a financially rewarding career choice. You can make over $50,000 working as a health coach as soon as you get your certification.
  • The Growing Market for Health and Wellness Coaching: According to the BLS, demand for all healthcare occupations should increase at a projected 16% rate between 2020 and 2030. While health coaches aren’t considered healthcare professionals, they work in close proximity with clients in the same field to deliver similar outcomes.
  • Offering Clients Integrative Health Solutions: Health coaches are in increasing demand with the public’s growing focus on general well-being. Instead of working with personal trainers or dieticians, a client might choose a health coach to focus on specific issues, like stress management or handling a chronic disease.
  • Taking Care of Your Own Health: Having a better understanding of your body and mitigating health issues as they arise is an important result of studying the human body and looking out for its well-being.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Degrees Are Best for Health Coaches?

You can major in the following fields to prepare for a health coaching program: Nursing, Health Science, Nutrition, Exercise Science, Physical Therapy, and Health Education.

Where Do Most Health Coaches Work?

Health coaches work in public health organizations, wellness & fitness centers, nursing homes, day spas, major corporations, medical centers & clinics, schools, hospitals, and insurance companies. They can also run a private practice, working with clients online and in person.

Similar Gigs to Check Out

Is health coaching not for you? Here are similar careers to check out:

  • How to Become a Life CoachHealth coaches focus on physical and mental health, while life coaches empower you to make the right life decisions for you. Here’s how to become one!
  • How to Become a Personal TrainerIf your passion is physical fitness and you want to help people achieve their fitness goals, here’s how to become a personal trainer.
  • How to Become a DieticianDiet is a huge part of body health. If food is your calling, then check out this tutorial.

Wrapping Up

For those who are passionate about health and wellness, health coaching is an ideal career choice to make. Aside from being a financially rewarding job, it’s also a fulfilling endeavor as you help clients reach their health goals.

Is health coaching the career for you? Sound off in the comments below! And don’t forget to share this piece, especially with those looking to become a health coach themselves.

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