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How to Become a Certified Health Education Specialist

how to become a certified health education specialistToday, it’s important to be able to understand and communicate how many different physical and mental health issues can interact and exacerbate each other. With the growing problem of obesity, for example, research shows a link to a number of mental health issues. In one meta-analysis, researchers found a clear association between ADHD and obesity in both children and adults. In cases like these, health practitioners need to not only have an understanding of obesity, but know how issues like mental health and genetics impact weight gain.

As more awareness builds around the complexity of our overall health, job prospects are increasing for health education specialists. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the expected job growth rate for health education specialists from 2019-29 is 13%, much faster than the average rate of all occupations (4%). Health education specialists develop and promote health programs, and can work in a variety of settings, including community/non-profit health, government health agencies, colleges and universities, schools, clinical health organizations, and businesses/worksites. Becoming certified in the field can help health education specialists advance their careers, and signify to potential employers that they have mastered key competencies for the profession.

According to job market analysis tool Labor Insight from Burning Glass, job listings with the Certified Health Education Specialist credential have increased 118% from 2017 to 2020. The National Commission for Health Education Credentialing (NCHEC), Inc. is the only accredited organization that certifies health education specialists, overseeing the Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES®) and Master Certified Health Education Specialist (MCHES®) credentials. Earning a master’s degree in health education can help you on your path to certification.


Certified Health Education Specialist Exam (CHES®) Eligibility Requirements

To sit for the Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES®) exam, individuals must meet certain academic requirements:

  • A bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree from an accredited institution, and
  • A major in a discipline of health education. This could include: health education, community health education, public health education, school health education, etc. or
  • 25 semester hours (37 quarter hours) in the Areas of Responsibility and Competency for Health Education Specialists

Some degree programs, like the University of Florida’s online Master of Science in Health Education and Behavior, were specifically developed around the areas of responsibility for health education specialists. By using these principles at its foundation, the program prepares students to address client challenges with a comprehensive overview of individual, family, and community health concerns, all while preparing students to sit for the CHES® examination.


Master Certified Health Education Specialist (MCHES®) Exam Eligibility Requirements

Those seeking to complete the MCHES® exam may, but are not required, to have CHES® certification, as long as they meet the experience and academic requirements outlined below.

  • For CHES®
    • Five or more active years as a Certified Health Education Specialist
  • For Non-CHES® or CHES® with less than five years in active status
    • Master’s degree or higher in a discipline of health education. This could include: health education, community health education, public health education, school health education, etc. or
    • Master’s degree or higher with 25 semester hours (37 quarter hours) in the Seven Areas of Responsibility and Competency for Health Education Specialists and
    • Five years of experience as a health education specialist. This must be proven by:
      • Two verification forms from current or previous manager/supervisor or health education professional organization leader
      • Current CV/resume that clearly outlines relevant experience

When Can You Take the CHES® Exam?

The CHES® exam is offered during two 10-day windows each year: in April and October. Registration is open from November through February ahead of the April exam dates, and from May through August for the October exam dates.

Exam rates vary based upon time of registration, with early bird, regular and late fees. Additionally, full-time students taking at least 9 credits are eligible for a discounted cost on the CHES® exam. Students are encouraged to explore the Helen P. Cleary Scholarship opportunity available to full-time students with a 3.0 or higher GPA and a need for financial assistance.

Exam Location and Details

Test takers are given 3 hours to complete the CHES® examination, which may be completed at home with Live Remote Testing or in-person at a Prometric Test Center.

Live Remote Testing was created as an option in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and is expected to continue to be offered. It is completed using live monitoring through ProProctor.

Those who elect to complete the exam in person at a Prometric Test Center can expect to spend 3.5 hours total at the computer, including surveys and tutorials. Centers are available both nationally and in limited locations internationally, and can be found on the Prometric website.

Upon completion of the exam, CHES® candidates will receive an email with an unofficial pass/fail result. Official scores are provided by mail within four to six weeks after the close of the exam window.

Exam Details: Questions and Topics Covered

The CHES® exam includes 165 multiple-choice questions. Only 150 questions are scored, while the other 15 are used as pilot items.

The focus of the exam is ensuring individuals are competent in core skills required of the profession. The exam questions cover the Areas of Responsibility of Health Education Specialists, but the percentage of questions covered from these areas differs. See the below table for the complete breakdown of CHES® exam questions by responsibility.

Area of Responsibility CHES® Exam % of Questions
Assess Needs, Resources, and Capacity for Health Education/Promotion 15%
Plan Health Education/Promotion 18%
Implement Health Education/Promotion 25%
Conduct Evaluation and Research Related to Health Education/Promotion 9%
Administer and Manage Health Education/Promotion 12%
Serve as a Health Education/Promotion Resource Person 9%
Communicate, Promote and Advocate for Health and the Profession of Health Education/Promotion 12%

Table taken from CHES® examination blueprint.


Maintaining Certification

After passing the exam, CHES® will need to complete various items to demonstrate their continued knowledge. This includes:

  • Paying a $60 annual renewal fee
  • Receiving 75 Continuing Education Contact Hours (CECH) within 5 years
    • To fulfill this requirement, 45 CECH must come from NCHEC-approved providers (Category I). The additional 30 can come from other non-approved providers (Category II).
    • There are a wide variety of events and opportunities that count toward CECH, many of which are free and virtual. This includes conferences or workshops and self-study opportunities. NCHEC provides certificants with upcoming events through mail, on their website, and on social media.
    • NCHEC recommends that individuals complete 15 CECH each year to ensure they’ll be ready for recertification at the end of five years, but this is not a requirement.

Why Become a CHES®

In a world full of misinformation, there’s an even greater need for professionals who can guide people toward the resources they need to live healthier lives. In addition to core knowledge skills related to health and wellness, health education specialists need to be ready to adapt to drastically different needs and foster the ability to communicate to their clients with empathy and understanding.

Data from job postings looking for health education specialists shows just how important building a holistic understanding of physical and mental health has become to employers. According to the Labor Insight tool from Burning Glass, the top five skill clusters in greatest demand for Certified Health Education Specialists include:

  • Public health and disease prevention
  • Mental health therapies
  • Patient education and support
  • Mental and behavioral health specialties
  • Advanced patient care

Pursuing certification signals to potential employers and clients that an individual is recognized as an effective communicator and health education expert. Furthermore, the number of educators pursuing certification is increasing.

According to NCHEC, from 2007 to 2017, there was 10% annual growth in the number of certificants and, as of 2019, there were over 15,000 individuals with CHES® and MCHES® certification. NCHEC notes that a Certified Health Education Specialist salary may be higher than that of someone who is not CHES® certified, as some employers are recognizing the benefits of the credential in this or other ways, such as paying for the exam or fees incurred for continuing education.

Certificants are satisfied with their decision to pursue the credential. In a 2019 survey of CHES® and MCHES® credential holders, respondents noted that, among other things, the credential “enhances professional credibility… and expands professional opportunity.”


About the Online Master of Science in Health Education and Behavior at the University of Florida

The University of Florida’s online Master of Science in Health Education and Behavior (HEB) was developed by CHES® and MCHES® faculty to prepare students for careers in clinical and non-clinical settings. Developed around the areas of responsibility laid out by the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing, the curriculum builds the knowledge that professionals need to plan, implement and evaluate programs for health education and promotion. To ensure HEB students are positioned for success, the program requires that all students sit for the Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES®) Exam. During the 2020 exam cycles, 51 students/graduates took the CHES® exam. Of these test takers, 47 passed resulting in a 92% pass rate—nearly 24% higher than the national average.


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