Recently dubbed “America’s Stress Capital”, and coming in at number 1 on Movoto’s 10 Most Stressed Out Cities list, Washington is a fast-paced city full of people that would really benefit from the services of health coaches.
WebMD warns that stress is intricately connected to some of the chronic health issues plaguing the DC community, including heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.
The DC Department of Health points out that these three issues dramatically impact the health of DC residents:
- Heart disease – the leading cause of death in Washington DC
- Diabetes – the 6th leading cause of death in the DC area
- Obesity – a major factor in five of the top ten causes of death in Washington DC.
Notice anything interesting about this list? If you recognized that all three of these issues are also directly related to diet, exercise, and sleep, you’re right on target.
It’s just this complicated mix of factors – the physical meeting the psychological – that makes health coaching such a valuable resources for those dealing with stress and illness.
While doctors diagnose illness and prescribe treatments, health coaches work alongside individuals to help them take their doctor’s orders and create practical solutions that result in sustainable change.
Not only that, health coaches are in the unique position to help these individuals prevent illness before it starts by addressing the physical, mental, and emotional factors that can lead to long-term health issues.
If joining people on the journey to a well-rounded, health-filled life excites you, read on, because Washington DC might just be the place for you to put down roots and flourish.
How to Become a Health Coach: Degrees and Professional Certification
If you’re hoping to type “Health Coach” into your favorite university’s search engine and pull up a neatly laid out program of study with recommended courses, you’re likely to come up disappointed.
While it seems like our country has laws and regulations, for just about every career imaginable, health coaching is a different story.
Although quickly making its way into the mainstream world of healthcare and health education, the field is still relatively new.
Currently, there is no one District or national licensing body for health coaches. There is also no one clearly defined path that all coaches must take.
This can be both confusing and exhilarating, as it puts you in charge of figuring out what area of coaching best suits you and then figuring out the best path to get there.
While in general, health coaches are well-rounded practitioners, addressing everything from diet to exercise to spiritual matters, most coaches have certain areas that they become experts of sorts in.
As you look through the following information on course and degree options, think carefully about what you most enjoy when it comes to helping others develop a healthy life and look for the route that seems to most closely align with those areas.
Washington DC does have some tricky laws regarding the practice of nutrition counseling. If your education doesn’t include a degree or certificate in nutrition or dietetics, you can still offer general advice on nutrition within limits.
For more information on this law, please examine the Center for Nutrition Advocacy’s DC page, as well the District of Columbia Municipal Regulations for Nutrition document.
Associate, Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree Options in Washington DC
Undergraduate majors that could open the door to professional health coaching include:
- Nutrition and Dietetics
- Health Promotion
- Public Health
- Athletic Training
- Exercise Science
- Health Science
- Health Education
If you are ready to move on towards a graduate level degree, numerous options exist within Washington DC, including majors in the following areas:
- Nutrition Education
- Health Promotion
- Public Health
- Public Health Nutrition
- Nutritional Sciences
Non-Degree Health Coach Certification Programs
There are a number of online health coaching certification programs that offer a focused education over a period of 6 weeks to 2 years, usually focusing on nutrition and/or exercise science.
Even for those with degrees in health-related fields, adding a coaching certification can improve your marketability and knowledge base. This usually also improves income opportunities.
For an example of just such a certification program, you can take a look at the American Council on Exercise. As the only Health Coach Certification program accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies, ACE offers three tracks to prospective coaches:
- Health Coaching for Fitness Professionals
- Health Coaching for Health Care Providers
- Health Coaching for Workplace Wellness
If you’d like to explore these options a little more, check out ACE’s Certification Candidate Handbook.
Other potential agencies to consider would be those accredited by the fairly new but academically vigorous National Consortium for Credentialing Health & Wellness Coaches.
Other Tracks to Becoming a Health Coach in Washington DC
Some individuals go through a life-transforming, health-altering experience and look forward to sharing this knowledge with others. Currently, it is possible to set up an independent health coaching practice based on personal experience.
It would be wise in this case to consider two questions:
- Does what I plan to do fall within the scope of limitations for nutrition counseling set by the DC Regulations for Nutrition?
- Would I want to hire somebody with this level of knowledge, or should I consider bolstering my experience with further training to better serve my clients?
Helping others find their path to health is rewarding, but comes with significant responsibility. You may find that contacting current health coaches and asking them a little about their own paths to success will help you determine which next steps are best for you.
Career Paths and Job Opportunities Available to Health Coaches in Washington DC
Recognizing the unique role of health coaches in partnering with government initiatives, Mayor Muriel Bowser chose to partner with local health and fitness coaches to implement her FitDC health and wellness initiative. This DC-wide initiative encourages residents to take charge of their health through exercise and nutrition awareness, recognizing the impact health has on the community and the economy.
Other organizations hire independent health coaches or corporate wellness teams to come in and guide their employees to better health. Depending on the focus of the wellness organization or individual company, varying certifications are required.
Companies working in the DC area and known to hire or partner with health coaches include:
- Infinity Wellness
- True Health and Wholeness
- Wellness Corporate Solutions
- Corporate Fitness Works
- Fred Meyer
- Take Shape for Life
- The Kenjya-Trusant Group, LLC
- Corporate Fitness Works
Still wondering what it would look like to work as a health coach in a corporation?
Here are some examples of job descriptions sourced in July, 2016. These are meant as informative samples only, and are not actual job offers.
Wellness Coordinator, The Kenjya-Trusant Group, DC – This person will serve DC Metro worksites to establish evidence-based wellness interventions. This will involve the establishment, facilitation, and maintenance of location-based wellness committees, making arrangements for health education and physical activity opportunities, empowering locations to implement evidence-based interventions, assessment of the process and examination of data, and regular meetings with the wellness team to ensure that all initiatives fulfill the stated mission and objectives.
Requirements: Must have previous experience in the field and be a Certified Health Education Specialist, have American College of Sports Medicine Certification, be a Certified Worksite Wellness Specialist, a Cooper Health Promotion Director, or have similar certification. This job does require security clearances.
Health Fitness Specialist, Corporate Fitness Works, DC – This job is for a government-based fitness facility. The Specialist will have responsibilities such as exercise supervision, program direction, facility orientation, administration of fitness assessments, teaching group classes, helping individuals meet fitness goals, assist with health promotion programs, and offer health consultations.
Requirements: Bachelor’s degree in a health/fitness related field; certification through ACE, AFFAA, ACSM, NASM, or NSCA; Current First Aid/CPR/AED certifications, excellent communication skills and ability to work in a team environment.
Per Diem Health Coach – RD Only, Provant, DC – The health coach will be responsible for face-to-face health coaching sessions for Provant Clients, and will be involved in Wellness Committees or other Wellness programs per client request. In addition to individual coaching you will provide guidance to the group for further growth of wellness throughout the company. This job will cover many facets, including online and face-to-face coaching and education, clinical research, program development, client specific training, clinical training, and other assignments as the management sees fit.
Requirements – Registered Dietitian, HIPPA compliance, understanding of various biometric results, and growth in knowledge of specific topics related to chronic illnesses, weight management, tobacco cessation, and stress management. *Wellness coaching certification preferred.
Independent Health Coaches
Independent health coaches will need to register their business with the Department of Consumer Regulatory Affairs.
If you choose to become an independent coach, a portion of your time will be spent on the daily aspects of running a business – invoices and receipts, marketing and other business-related tasks. This is an important consideration as you move forward: for some people, the prospect of running a small business is exciting, while for others it is terrifying. Consulting with people who have already walked this path may help you determine whether or not it is right for you.
Resources for Health Coaches in Washington DC
DC Health Department and Wellness Initiatives
Professional Organizations and Certifying Bodies
There are currently no DC-focused professional organizations serving health coaches, however depending on which track you take for coaching you may find the following resources helpful:
Additional Helpful Links
The Public Health Foundation
District of Columbia Area Health Education Center
Institute for Public Health Innovation
DC Nutrition Laws
National Consortium for Credentialing Health & Wellness Coaches
Law and the Health Coach
Health Coaching: Your Right to Practice
Steps to Starting a Business in DC