University of Florida

How to Become a Certified Health Education Specialist

how to become a certified health education specialistHealth professionals must understand the interrelated nature of all dimensions of health. In order to help someone improve their wellness, it is equally important that health professionals are able to communicate how the interaction of different risk factors may contribute to a health issue. With the growing problem of obesity, for example, research shows a link to several mental health issues. In one meta-analysis, researchers found a clear association between ADHD and obesity in adults. In cases like these, health practitioners need to not only have an understanding of obesity but also 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 2022-32 is 7%, faster than the average rate of all occupations (2.8%). Health education specialists work in a variety of settings, including clinical health organizations, community/non-profit health organizations, government health agencies, colleges and universities, schools, 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 Lightcast, job listings with the Certified Health Education Specialist credential have increased 254% from 2020 to 2023. 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
  • 25 semester hours (37 quarter hours) in the Areas of Responsibility and Competency for Health Education Specialists

Three types of courses can fulfill the course requirements:

  • Process Courses align with the Eight Areas of Responsibility
  • Content Courses focus on topics that include elements in the Eight Areas of Responsibility
  • General Courses include overall elements also covered in the Eight Areas of Responsibility

Process courses are critical to eligibility, and prospective students must have completed at least 12 semester credits (or 4 courses) in the category.

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. Using these principles as 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 Certification 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 and five years experience
    • 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 Eight 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 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 on the time of registration, with early bird, regular and final (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 PSI 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 PSI Web Delivery.

Centers can be found on the Prometric website, along with further information on availability and test instructions.

Upon completion of the exam, CHES® candidates will receive an email with an unofficial pass/fail result. Official scores are provided by mail 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 table below for the complete breakdown of CHES® exam questions by responsibility.

Area of Responsibility CHES® Exam % of Questions
Assessment of Needs and Capacity 17%
Planning 14%
Implementation 15%
Evaluation and Research 12%
Advocacy 12%
Communication 12%
Leadership and Management 6%
Ethics and Professionalism 12%

Table sourced from the April 2024 CHES® examination handbook.

Maintaining CHES® Certification

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

  • Paying a $70 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.
    • Of the 75 total credits, 5 credits must fulfill the Continuing Competency Requirement
    • 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 Certified Health Education Specialist?

In a world of misinformation, there’s an even greater need for health professionals who can guide people toward the resources needed 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 Lightcast, the top five industries in greatest demand for Certified Health Education Specialists include:

  • Colleges, universities, and professional schools
  • Direct health and medical insurance carriers
  • Other general government support
  • General medical and surgical hospitals
  • Freestanding ambulatory surgical and emergency centers

Pursuing certification signals to potential employers and clients that an individual is recognized as an effective communicator and health education expert.

During the 2022 exam cycle, NCHEC reported 2,261 CHES® registrants and 199 MCHES® registrants, showing strong demand for the certification. NCHEC notes that the salary of a Certified Health Education Specialist may be higher than that of someone who is not CHES® certified, as some employers recognize the benefits of the credential in this or other ways, such as paying for the exam or fees incurred for continuing education.

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 2022 exam cycles, 69 students/graduates took the CHES® exam. Of these test takers, 57 passed, resulting in a 82.6% pass rate—more than 14% higher than the national average (68.4%).

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To learn more about the University of Florida’s online Master of Science in Health Education and Behavior and download a free brochure, fill out the fields below. You can also call (888) 533-6944 to speak to an enrollment advisor.

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