Over the last several decades, programs in Health Coaching, Health Advocacy, and Nutrition have gone from rare to a significant number of undergraduate and graduate programs of varying lengths, prerequisites, and professional focus.
Duke University’s Integrative Medicine offers an Integrative Health Coach Professional Training Program, which features a Foundation Course, focusing on core competencies of Integrative Health Coaching, and a Certification Course, which offers advanced training. Integrative Health Coaching empowers individuals to make lasting health behavior changes that are the cornerstones of lifelong well-being. It bridges the gap between medical recommendations and abilities to successfully implement those recommendations.
At the University of Minnesota, the Center for Spirituality and Healing has been a leader in graduate health coaching education since 2005. The Center offers a Master of Arts degree in Integrative Health and Wellbeing Coaching, as well as a Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Integrative Therapies and Healing Practices. According to the Center’s Founder and Director, Dr. Mary Jo Kreitzer, the program is drawing professionals to the program from many fields including, but not limited to, “nursing, medicine, psychology, social work, and counseling. While some want to specifically work as a health coach, many are recognizing the importance of incorporating coaching skills into their regular practice as a health care provider.”
Framingham State University has developed 3 masters programs in food and nutrition – top ranked (10th) nationally by Public Health Online. Graduates from these programs can focus their work in a broad array of fields, including dietetics, nutrition science and informatics, and nutrition education – working in schools, colleges, universities, social service agencies, and other mission complementary nutrition organizations. With a focus on nutrition research and proximity to Boston, the University is currently engaged in the Framingham Food Study with Boston Children’s Hospital and Assabet Valley Regional Technical High School. Dr. Javier Cevallos, President of Framingham State University, put it nicely this way:
“The collaboration with Boston Children’s Hospital opens a new era for research and scholarship for Framingham State University. It is truly exciting to be part of a research endeavor that will illuminate a question that can change the dieting culture of the nation!”
Health Coaching and Health Advocacy can and does achieve measurable results. A health coach program at Dartmouth-Hitchcock-Clinic reportedly improved self-care and decreased readmission for high-risk, chronically ill patients. The health coaches provided evidence-based information with the goal of improving patient self-management skills, preparing patients for office visits, encouraging physician-patient communication, and engaging patients in their care plans.
Assumption College offers a somewhat unique Master of Arts in Health Advocacy degree program. The Assumption program equips graduates with the ability to advocate for their clients and patients, and importantly, successfully navigate today’s complex health setting by learning essential elements of ethics, law, advocacy, management, human services, social and health sciences, and human services. Assumption’s Assistant Provost, Dr. J. Bart Morrison, best describes the distinctive strengths of program graduates this way:
“Our kind and competent graduates are known for operating from a strength based, culturally competent framework that empowers patients and clients and enhances healthcare organizations and the system at large. Our graduates make a difference by fulfilling a vital role in society as they make sure patients and clients receive service that meets best practices, protects ethical rights, is culturally sensitive; includes preventive and mental healthcare; and is linked to community resources.”
From these several model programs, we have learned that graduate and postgraduate study and scholarship have increasingly become the coin of the realm for health care professionals. Prior to entering undergraduate institutions, health care career focused high schools can also play a significant role in providing students with a strong foundation for success.
At the end of the day, health, wellness, and nutrition education now proliferates secondary, postsecondary, undergraduate, and graduate levels of the American education system. Importantly, these schools, colleges, and universities are just scratching the surface of an irreversible megatrend.
James Martin and James E. Samels are authors of The Provost’s Handbook: The Role of the Chief Academic Officer (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015). Martin is a professor of English at Mount Ida College (Mass.) and Samels is president and CEO of The Education Alliance.