By many accounts South Dakota is one of the healthier states in the nation. We rank in the top 40 percent of states for having a low adult physical inactivity rate, low rate of diabetes diagnoses, and low rate of hypertension. However we’re not in the top 10, and should be especially concerned about the following statistics (Trust for America’s Health, 2014):
- South Dakota is in the top-half of states that have a high obesity rate – 30 percent for adults and 13.4 percent for youths aged 10-17
- South Dakota is among the top 15 states for having the lowest daily rate of consumption of the recommended amount of fruit and vegetables
- South Dakota ranks in the middle among states for the percentage of residents who currently smoke – 18.6 percent
Recognizing the importance of healthy habits and a healthy lifestyle, the South Dakota Department of Health has put its weight behind initiatives like Good and Healthy South Dakota. The goal of this program is simple: to encourage residents to adopt healthier lifestyles that promote good health and prevent chronic diseases.
The main participants in this initiative come from several different sectors of the economy, namely corporations, government, and healthcare. The reason you get this broad cross section of actors is due to a common recognition that health and wellness saves vast amounts of money, whether it be through increased productivity, decreased sick days, or decreased healthcare expenditures. This is evident in the twice-yearly WorkWell Summit, which is part of the Good and Healthy South Dakota Initiative. The main sponsors of the fall summit in 2016 are four healthcare companies, a corporate wellness company, and the state health department:
- Avera Health Plans
- Sanford Health Plan
- Wellmark South Dakota
- Health Management Partners
- South Dakota Department of Health
So who is on the ground implementing health and wellness initiatives in the government, corporate, and healthcare sectors? Healthcare workers, human resource directors, health benefits managers, medical directors, insurance reps, and, of course, health coaches. Health coaches are a key part in the implementation equation as they are the professionals who work daily, one-on-one with individuals to develop tailored wellness strategies that accomplish goals like smoking cessation, weight loss, improved cardiac and circulatory system health, healthy eating, and general health and wellness.
Relevant Degrees and Professional Certifications for a Career in Health Coaching
There is no one path to becoming a health coach, which means you can choose from many different relevant areas of study and professional certification options. Holding a degree and professional certification gives you a solid grounding from which you can achieve your long-term career goals and demonstrate your particular area of expertise– whether related to exercise science or nutrition, or a well rounded program in health and wellness.
The following bachelors and Master’s programs offer career-focused instruction delivered by trained nutritionists with experience in the field. Find out more what each individual course of study offers through the locations below.
American University offers two different programs focused on Nutrition and Health. Their Online Master of Science in Nutrition Education will prepare you to become an influential leader in nutrition education and advocacy while promoting nutrition and healthy lifestyle choices in your community and beyond. Or Earn your Master of Science in Health Promotion Management from AU’s award-winning program in just 20 months with $10K available in scholarships upon enrollment (qualifier is a 3.0 GPA).
UNC's MPH Nutrition concentration prepares students to provide, evaluate and communicate nutritional and dietary guidance that improves individual and population-wide health outcomes. In addition to developing their knowledge of nutrition science, students will explore behavior change, communication, counseling and the effects of dietary culture on individuals and communities.
Arizona State University - Online offers an Online Master of Science in Nutritional Science - Dietetics. Along with an Online Masters in Medical Nutrition
Bay Path University's health and wellness certificates build the knowledge, skills, and experience you need to upskill your abilities in your profession or to provide a robust concentration to your degree program for a specific role. Learn more about the Certificate in Food Science and Safety certificate.
If you want to work in fitness and nutrition, take the first step toward a new career with one of Penn Foster's accredited, online fitness and training programs. These affordable programs are all offered online, and can be taken at your own pace.
Grand Canyon University offers an M.S. in Nutrition and Dietetics.
Winthrop University offers an Online Master of Science in Human Nutrition and an Online Master of Science in Sport and Fitness Administration
Many areas of study are relevant to becoming a qualified health coach:
- Human biology
- Program planning and business
- Exercise science, fitness, and kinesiology
- Meditation, yoga, and other mind-body approaches to reducing stress
- Alternative and complimentary approaches to healthcare
- Group and individual coaching strategies
- Nutrition and dietetics
- Whole foods, vegetarianism, gluten-free, organic, paleo, and other types of diets
- Women’s health
- Holistic health
- Wellness and health counseling
- Obesity and weight management
If you’re interested in a health coaching career that involves developing meal plans or providing specific nutritional advice in a hospital or other similar setting, you will need to become a registered dietitian. This would involve meeting the education and national exam requirements of the Commission on Dietetic Registration and becoming state licensed through the South Dakota Board of Medical and Osteopathic Examiners.
Degree Options – Associate’s, Bachelor’s, and Master’s Degrees
You will find no shortage of relevant degree programs online and at campus locations throughout South Dakota.
You can potentially use prior credits you have earned towards a relevant degree for health coaching, building on existing education to gain further qualifications. You can also find programs that cater to students just beginning their studies in a health coach field.
Associate’s Degree Programs – Some entry-level jobs are available with just a two-year degree:
- Associate of Science (AS) in business management (Madison)
- Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) (Watertown)
- Associate of Science (AS) in nursing (Vermillion)
Bachelor’s Degree Programs – A bachelor’s degree is the most common degree requirement for health coach jobs:
- Bachelor of Science (BS) in exercise science (Brookings, Madison, Sioux Falls, and Spearfish)
- Bachelor of Science (BS) in food science (Brookings)
- Bachelor of Science (BS) in health education (Brookings and Sioux Falls)
- Bachelor of Science (BS) in dietetics (Brookings)
- Bachelor of Science (BS) in kinesiology and sport science (Vermillion)
- Bachelor of Science (BS) in physical education (Vermillion, Sioux Falls, Yankton, Madison, Spearfish, and Aberdeen)
- Bachelor of Science (BS) in addiction studies (Vermillion)
- Bachelor of Science (BS) in health sciences (Vermillion)
- Bachelor of Arts (BA) in athletic training (Sioux Falls)
- Bachelor of Science (BS) in sports management (Sioux Falls)
- Bachelor of Science (BS) in fitness management (Sioux Falls)
- Bachelor of Arts (BA) in exercise wellness (Yankton)
Master’s Degree Programs– If you already have a degree in another field, you can apply transferrable credits towards a master’s degree:
- Master of Science (MS) in nutrition and exercise sciences (Brookings)
- Master of Public Health (MPH) (Brookings and Vermillion)
- Master of Science (MS) in dietetics (Brookings)
- Master of Arts (MA) in kinesiology and sport management (Vermillion)
- Master of Arts (MA) in addiction studies (Vermillion)
- Master of Science Education (MS.Ed) in sport performance and leadership (Aberdeen)
- Master of Arts (MA) in sports administration and leadership (Sioux Falls)
Health Coach Certification Programs
There is also a multitude of options for earning relevant professional certification, offered by different national organizations with varying levels of accreditation. Professional certification programs can take weeks or months to complete and compliment the education you receive in your degree program. Usually earning a certification involves completing an online curriculum and passing a final test.
Currently the American Council on Education (ACE) is the only organization that is accredited through the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). The ACE health coach program offers three certification programs designed to align with your professional career goals:
- Health coach certification for fitness professionals
- Health coach certification for health care professionals
- Health coach certification for workplace wellness
You can find detailed information about these programs in the ACE Certification Candidate Handbook.
The International Coach Federation (ICF) is another leading organization devoted to creating a large network of qualified health coaches around the world. The ICF enforces high standards for the profession and offers independent certification. It provides several different credentialing options for coaches including:
- Associated Certified Coach (ACC)
- Professional Certified Coach (PCC)
- Master Certified Coach (MCC)
Health Coach Career Opportunities in South Dakota
Health coaches work independently for private individuals, for corporate wellness programs, for healthcare organizations, for schools, and with government health organizations. Some local employers in South Dakota who have been known to hire health coaches include:
- Regional Health
- State of South Dakota
- VA Black Hills Healthcare System
- City of Rapid City
- Rapid City Regional Hospital
- Avera Saint Luke’s Hospital
- Ellsworth Air Force Base
- Sanford Health
The following job vacancy announcements, sourced in August 2016, represent the types of employment opportunities available to properly credentialed health coaches in South Dakota. These job vacancy announcements are shown for illustrative purposes only and are not meant to represent job offers or provide an assurance of employment.
Health Coach with Health Management Partners in Sioux Falls – This company has been linking health coaches to companies that have wellness plans for over ten years. As a health coach with Health Management Partners you work with corporate clients in a workplace setting to improve employee wellness. Your duties include conducting health risk assessments, health screenings, developing workplace wellness and intervention programs, and providing one-on-one coaching with clients to achieve their specific goals through a change in diet, exercise, and other lifestyle alterations. You may also be involved in a specific program such as mind-body, cardiac health, or diabetes prevention.
Preferred applicants for this position have any of the following credentials:
- Professional health coach or related certification
- A college degree in a related field
- Prior work experience in motivational coaching
Health Coach with Dakotacare’s Population Health Team in Sioux Falls – Dakotacare members and participants have the opportunity to work with this award-winning health coach team to get help achieving their wellness goals. As a health coach who is part of this team you are responsible for working one-on-one with your clients to develop a health plan and regularly encourage its implementation. The plan can include diet modification, specific exercises, and health statistics monitoring.
Current health coaches on this team have a variety of qualifications that include:
- Bachelor of Science (BS) in health and physical education
- Master of Arts (MA) in exercise science
- Health and wellness coach certification
- Licensed practical nurse (LPN)
- Registered nurse (RN)
Health Coach Whitney Fretham, She Lives Fit in Sioux Falls – Whitney Fretham is a great example of a health coach who started her own business. Like many independent health coaches, Fretham began her journey to this career path through her own personal struggles with weight gain and an unhealthy lifestyle. She cleaned up her act, lost 40 pounds, altered her exercise and nutrition habits, and became healthy for the first time in her life as an adult. Now she takes what she has learned from that experience and shares it with her own clients. She offers three and six-month programs for individuals as well as couples.
Fretham’s résumé includes these qualifications:
- Health coach training from a nutrition institute
- Holistic health coach certification
- Dietary theory training
- Education in holistic nutrition and preventative health
- Yoga training
State Resources for Health Coaches
You can locate additional information and resources about becoming a health coach through the following state agencies, initiatives, and professional organizations:
Government Agencies and Initiatives
- South Dakota Department of Health (DOH)
- DOH’s Tobacco Prevention and Control Program
- DOH’s Healthy South Dakota Initiative
- DOH’s Office of Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion
- DOH’s Good and Healthy South Dakota Initiative
Professional Organizations and Associations