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    Becoming a health coach: Is it worth it?



    Establishing a career in the healthcare field isn’t easy. For instance, if you want to become a doctor, you’re likely looking at dedicating many years of post-secondary education, along with internships and residencies—perhaps more—depending on what you’d like to specialize in. But doctors work in tandem with people in numerous support staff positions, either directly or indirectly. That can include health coaches.

    Becoming a health coach isn’t as arduous as becoming a full-fledged doctor, but it does take some time, effort, and investment. As for whether it’s all worth it to become a health coach? That depends—but many health coaches are quick to say “yes.”

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    Is becoming a certified health coach worth it?

    While it takes some commitment, becoming a health coach, for some, is more than worth it.

    “It’s been fabulous,” says Anita Greenwald, a certified health coach who splits her time between New York and Florida. “It’s created meaning in my life,” she says, adding that “the beautiful thing is that you’re helping people—there’s nothing better.”

    Greenwald, a yoga teacher for many years, says that becoming a health coach is technically her “third career,” and she decided to pursue the designation during the pandemic. She met the initial criteria (a college degree and 4,000 work hours in any position), and signed up for a health coach training program in New York City, which she did virtually. She finished up the program and started working with clients less than a year later.

    There are an estimated 128,000 health coaches in the U.S., and that number is likely to increase in the coming years, at least partially because of the earnings potential. Industry data shows that health coaches are reporting charging hourly rates as high as $350 per hour, and earning an average of more than $40 per hour.

    The health coaching field is “exploding,” says Dr. Cherie O’Neill, Director of Integrative Health & Wellbeing Coaching Programs in the Earl E. Bakken Center for Spirituality and Healing at The University of Minnesota. “We expect to see major growth in the next ten years,” O’Neill says, because “Medicaid and CMS released reimbursement codes for health coaches, meaning your provider can refer you to a health coach.” 

    In other words, patients may now have costs related to working with a health coach covered by their insurer, significantly opening up the potential client pool for health coaches. With that, it’s a growth industry, and one in which potential health coaches may find rewarding—so, it may be a rewarding career track for a lot of people.

    What skills do you need to become a certified health coach?

    Health coaches are not doctors, therapists, or dieticians, but they still likely need a mix of hard and soft skills to find success in the field. “Becoming a health coach is the easy part,” says Greenwald. “The business part is hard.”

    As such, Greenwald says that health coaches who plan to operate their own independent practice, as she does, will need to brush up on their entrepreneurial and business management skills. That may include the ability to do some or all of the following: 

    • Accounting
    • Marketing and outreach
    • Project management

    Overall, Greenwald says that having “really good organizational skills” may be the key to running a successful health coaching practice. But it’s the softer skills that may be even more important in the health coach field. “You need to be a good listener, you need to have empathy, and no judgment,” she says. Further, “resilience and perseverance” are critical, as running a business will have its ups and downs.

    O’Neill adds that the following soft skills are also very important for health coaches to cultivate, even if they’re a bit abstract:

    • Emotional intelligence
    • Mindfulness
    • Curiosity

    Ultimately, that ability to connect and work with a patient on an emotional and personal level is likely the key to success, in terms of actually practicing as a coach. “The greatest predictor of most successful outcomes in [coach-client] relationships is rapport—if you have an amazing connection with your patient, their outcomes are going to be better,” O’Neill adds.

    What degrees are best for a health coach?

    In order to become a health coach designation, an associate’s degree is required—at minimum. That said, O’Neill says that “most health coaches have a Master’s degree,” and that they’re “usually from health backgrounds—but you don’t need to be.”

    With that in mind, just about any degree will get you in the door for a training program, but it may be helpful to hold a degree in a medical field. Industry data finds that more than 91% of health coaches have a Bachelor’s degree or higher, and 8% of those hold a Doctoral degree.

    But again, only an associate’s degree is required to get started, and for prospective health coaches, it may be beneficial to earn one at least tangentially related to the healthcare field.

    How long does it take to become a certified health coach?

    Another important question for prospective health coaches: How long does the whole process take? Again, the answer depends on numerous factors. 

    Greenwald says she was able to complete her training program and start practicing in less than a year, and that may be a good time frame to have in mind for those training to become a health coach—but it’ll ultimately come down to how much time you have to study, train, and work through a program of your choosing. Each program is different, too, which means they can vary in terms of time commitment.

    But a year or so may be a good ballpark figure in terms of becoming a health coach, assuming that you have the necessary work experience and a college degree to meet the qualifying criteria.

    The takeaway 

    Whether it’s worth the time, money, and effort to become a health coach is up to you. But if you’re passionate about helping people reach their goals, looking for a potential career in a blossoming field, and have an applicable skill set, health coaching may be a viable option. Again, though, there’s a lot to consider, and becoming a health coach isn’t necessarily easy. 

    It may be worth exploring training and education programs accordingly, and reaching out to talk to a health coach in your area directly to get a sense of what it all entails, and if it may be a good career fit. 



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