Introduction to Community Health Education

Published on: Mar 18, 2024

There has been a proven correlation between life expectancy and the community in which someone lives1. Since location is a critical determinant of health and wellbeing, community health education is critical to healthy and well functioning communities. According to the CDC, community health promotes a healthy lifestyle, “helps prevent chronic diseases, and brings the greatest health benefit to the greatest number of people in need. It also helps to reduce health gaps caused by differences in race and ethnicity, location, social status, income, and other factors that can affect health”2. Focusing on human sciences at the community level, and incorporating community engagement with public health, is beneficial both to the community and to the nation’s health as a whole. 

In this article, we will delve into the field of community health education by exploring key concepts, significance in public health, factors to take into account when considering a career in community health education, and advice. FInally, we will end with a few case studies detailing individuals and programs that are making a difference in the field today.

Key Concepts in Community Health Education

Social determinants of health, which the CDC describes as the “nonmedical factors that influence health outcomes” are directly connected to communities. Social determinants of health include access to safe parks and green space, access to grocery stores and healthy food, and being involved in one’s community. All of these things are determined and influenced by the communities in which people live. 

In addition to impacting things like environmental health, effective communication and behavior change strategies are necessary to improve human development. What makes effective communication of health information will differ depending on your target audience. It’s important to consider your audience’s health literacy levels, preferred language, and preferred mode of retrieving informationwhen developing communication materials to affect behavior change. If you are working with a primarily Mandarin-speaking population, make sure to have all of your health information translated into Mandarin and an interpreter onsite with you during events. If you are working with a population that isn't as savvy with the internet, think about other delivery options for health information, such as a local newspaper or the radio. 

In addition to tailoring your communication methods to your distinct audience, make sure you are tailoring the health interventions to your diverse community’s needs. Complete a needs assessment, conduct focus groups, and have formal and informal conversations with community members to gauge their needs and capacity. Just because you create a brilliant health intervention doesn’t mean the community will adopt it. Make sure it is something they like and have the capacity to implement. 
The most successful interventions are created by taking a collaborative approach with local organizations and stakeholders.

Significance in Public Health

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), “only 12% of Americans have proficient health literacy skills”. This means that 88% of Americans are effectively health illiterate3. The National Institute of Health released an article that stated, “adults with higher educational attainment live healthier and longer lives compared to their less educated peers”4. Community health education is imperative to empower communities for better health outcomes. As we know, adults with lower education levels suffer from worse health outcomes. 

Since there is an established direct correlation between education and health, we can work to address these health disparities by expanding education in communities. Public health education and health promotion can not only extend one’s life, but can contribute to disease control and prevention, better mental health, and overall greater wellbeing at the community level. Community health educators, community health workers, and other community health education specialists will all contribute to building a culture of health and wellness.

Considering a Career in Community Health Education

Educational Pathways and Qualifications

Most community health educators need at least a bachelor's degree in a health-related field such as public health, health science, health administration, or health promotion. While students can complete advanced degrees in community health, they are not required for most roles.

  • Graduate Certificates - If you want to become a health educator, some employers may prefer or require you to be certified by the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing, which offers a Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) certification and a Master Certified Health Education Specialist (MCHES) certification.

  • Continuing Education Courses - The National Commission for Health Education Credentialing (NCHEC) also offers continuing education courses for CHES and MCHES professionals. These continuing education courses can include experiences like academic courses, workshops, seminars, conferences, etc. 

There are also state-specific graduate certificates and continuing education courses for health education specialists. Pennsylvania Area Health Education Center has accredited Community health Worker certifications through the Pennsylvania Certification Board. There are various areas of focus, including chronic disease, harm reduction, and mental health first aid.  Take a look at job descriptions for positions you are interested in to see what formal training is required. 

Essential Skills

Essential skills for a career in community health education include soft skills like communication, problem-solving, empathy, teamwork, and motivational interviewing. Desirable hard skills include health literacy, teaching experience, being bilingual, and research and writing experience.

Diverse Roles

There are various roles within community health education that can make a lasting impact.

Community Health Workers

According to the CDC, community health workers are “trained public health workers who serve as a bridge between communities, health care systems, and state health departments”6. They often serve as the liaison between the medical world and the community. Community health workers may take people to medical appointments, implement health education programming like diabetes prevention initiatives, or work with social workers to help navigate individual’s health issues. Community health workers are employed across various settings, including hospitals and clinics, government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and community-based organizations.

Community Health Educators

The CDC identifies health educators' role as to address health and wellness topics by applying behavioral health, policy, or systems-level interventions to a community’s needs5. In simple terms, community health educators work with individuals and communities to help teach habits that influence health behavior change. This could happen in various settings including health care facilities, community health education centers, nonprofit organizations, and within government entities.

Shoutout to Community Health Educators Collaboration with Social Workers

Community health education professionals often work closely with social workers. This could be through a collaborative case management role, through referrals for care coordination, advocacy and partnership development, or more general interdisciplinary team collaboration, likely in relation to healthcare or health system navigation.

Challenges and Rewards

Community health educators may face a variety of challenges on a daily basis.

  • Training:

    Community health education is a role that is constantly evolving to meet changing public health priorities. Community health specialists are often tasked with staying up to date with larger trends in the community and impacting the broader health of their communities. They are expected to understand systems thinking while also planning programming that can be tailored to individual people; this is a difficult mindset to balance.

  • Limited Resources:

    Community healthcare specialists often work in resource-constrained environments and are tasked with creating programs, educational materials, and campaigns to address public health concerns. If you are interested in pursuing community health, you will develop a skill for doing a lot with a little.

  • Trust-Building:

    Part of a community health specialist’s role is to integrate themselves into the community they are serving. If you didn’t grow up in the community, this can be a difficult feat. Community health specialists often spend time and effort ingraining themselves, establishing relationships, and building bidirectional trust within the communities they are working.

Community health education is also an incredibly rewarding field. You have the potential to make community-level impact, meaning you have the potential to improve hundreds, if not thousands, of people’s lives. Because you are working closely with communities, you will develop strong relationships and get to know your community members on a deeper level than in some other public health fields. Most community health care positions consist of boots on the ground, so you can see your impact first hand and in real-time. 

For example, if you are helping enroll students in an after-school program to promote physical education, you will be able to see the results in mere weeks or months. This kind of tangible impact alone makes the job worth it.

Advice for Considering a Career in Community Health Education

If you are interested in becoming a community health educator, here are some things to keep in mind: 

  • Utilize Job Descriptions: Because there is a lot of variation in community health roles, take a look at job descriptions in sectors and environments that interest you. Look at the qualifications and preferred experiences to see how you can prepare to be the best candidate possible. For example, if the role wants one year of clinical experience, see if you can shadow a community health educator at your local hospital to further your professional development experience. If the position involves human services, see if you can get involved in volunteering in your local community. 

  • Network: We know that networking is an integral part of professional life nowadays. Reach out to folks on LinkedIn, other students, or individuals in your community who have job descriptions or experiences that interest you. If you have specific organizations that you are interested in, set up informational interviews with their leaders or human resources team to learn more. Networking can introduce you to new opportunities and open doors, which enables you to have a greater impact as a community health specialist and in your public health career. Many graduate studies programs and universities will also offer networking opportunities for students interested in community health, so take advantage of those events.

Community Health Education in Action: Case Studies

Individual Highlight and Successful Program in Action

Shreya Kangovi is paving a new path forward for community health workers in our country. Dr. Kangovi created IMPaCT, a grassroots and scalable intervention model utilizing technology and community health workers to improve the health of her local community. Not only does IMPaCT reduce hospital admissions, improve the mental health of patients, and reduce time spent in the hospital, it also returns $2.47 annually for every dollar invested by Medicaid7. Dr. Kangovi is one of the community health powerhouses of our generation. You can learn more about IMPaCT here

Real-World Examples

Healthy people 2030 is a real-world example of effective community health education strategies in action. There are 359 core objectives that are set to increase health equity and improve community health and well-being. Topics include things like economic stability, healthcare access and quality, schools and continuing education, and public health infrastructure. Specific examples of Healthy People 2030 initiatives include improving graduation rates for high school students and promoting a trauma-informed, supportive environment within schools.

Advocacy and Partnership Building

Community health education is extremely impactful, but it takes advocacy and community engagement to incite change. When building partnerships with community organizations, make sure you go in with a listening ear, an open mind, and your rolodex of resources. As much as you have to teach them, they have to teach you. One important lesson for community healthcare specialists is the bidirectional learning that happens in the community. Additionally, you may face cultural and/or linguistic barriers throughout your career, but ultimately, everyone has the same goal of bettering the community’s health and wellness. It is your job to ensure you are all focused on that common goal. All of this will ensure we are effectively advocating and building partnerships with our communities to promote the highest level of health and wellness.


Community health education plays a vital role in public health. As a growing field and an incredibly rewarding one, there are endless opportunities to pursue a career in community health promotion. Whether or not you decide to become a community health education specialist, we all have a role to play in supporting initiatives that improve the health and wellness of our communities and nation.

About the Authors

Written by:

Kerra Henkin, MPH, ML

Kerra Henkin, MPH, ML, is a program manager at one of the largest academic medical centers in the country. In her current role, she aligns and expands programming with needs identified in the federally mandated community health needs assessment, and deploys organizational resources to support community health improvement. Prior to this role, she was a community health educator for an advocacy nonprofit organization in Philadelphia. She has co-authored multiple research papers on criminal justice and substance abuse, and will be presenting on law enforcement assisted diversion at the 2023 American Public Health Association (APHA) annual meeting. 

Ms. Henkin holds a Master of Public Health (MPH) and Master in Law (ML) from the University of Pennsylvania. She holds a Bachelors of Science in Health Sciences from Ithaca College.

Opinions and information published by the author on are of her own and do not necessarily represent the views of opinions of her employer.

Kerra Henkin headshot

Kerra Henkin, MPH, ML

Program Manager

Education: University of Pennsylvania

Knowledge: Community health education

Reviewed by:

Katherine Paul, MPH

Katherine Paul, MPH is a senior project manager at a leading medical communications and publications organization. She supports multidisciplinary teams handling large-scale accounts, the deliverables of which improve health outcomes and patient well-being. Ms. Paul holds a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree in Health Promotion from Columbia University, Mailman School of Public Health and passed the Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) shortly after graduation. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology from Dickinson College.

Ms. Paul previously worked at a public health non-profit where she managed all aspects of diverse health-related projects, including the implementation of a randomized controlled clinical trial on sexual health for teens with developmental disabilities, as well as the evaluation of a statewide tobacco cessation program with more than 20,000 annual cases. She has developed and delivered posters and presentations at national conferences including the American Public Health Association (APHA) annual meeting. 

Opinions and information published by the author here on are of my own and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of my employer or other organizations for my designated roles.

Katherine Paul

Katherine Paul, MPH

Editorial Lead

Education: Columbia University, Mailman School of Public Health

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