What is a Community Health Educator?
A community health educator is a public health professional who educates people and communities about issues pertaining to health, ranging from nutrition to specific diseases. People who work as community health educators usually have at least a bachelor's degree, and it is not uncommon to hold a master's degree in public health or a related field. Health educators can work for government agencies such as public health departments along with private clinics and some work in the field of policymaking.
The role of the community health educator is to make a community healthier. Improving overall community health has a number of benefits beyond simply improving quality of life for community residents. Healthy communities tend to be more productive, with less lost time at work due to illness. In addition, it is less expensive to prevent disease than to treat it after the fact, making community health education a valuable tool for reducing health care costs.
Community health educators identify issues specific to the communities they work in, develop intervention plans, and put them into action. For example, a community health educator might note that neonatal mortality is unusually high in a given community. Statistical information would be gathered to determine which segments of the population were more vulnerable and collect information on why the rate was so high; people might lack access to clean water, not understand infant nutrition needs, and so forth. Next, the community health educator could start reaching out with classes, home visits, pamphlets, and other materials designed to educate people.
Working as a community health educator requires a knowledge of what is happening inside a community and which cultural and social norms might be barriers to health education. For instance, in a conservative community, providing sexual education to groups of mixed gender might be a problem, while providing separate classes would be socially acceptable. Being culturally sensitive and able to identify and work with vulnerable populations is also an important part of being a community health educator.
This type of work can include preventative programs in numerous settings, ranging from talks in grammar school classrooms to get students thinking about their health at an early age to one on one interventions in hospitals which are designed to ensure that patients have the information they need to make decisions about their care. Community health education can be especially challenging in diverse communities where educators may need to balance language barriers, literacy issues, and differing religious and cultural backgrounds among their clients.
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