Dr. Erin Nitschke by Dr. Erin Nitschke

Health coaching is a growing and versatile professional field. One of the many unique benefits to entering this profession is the flexibility to work in different settings and with a variety of individuals (Root, 2019). Health coaches have the ability to work as independent contractors and business owners or as employees in different environments ranging from local to federal entities. By capitalizing on face-to-face, hybrid and virtual coaching options, health coaches have a potentially unlimited reach.

Growth in Health Coaching

Health coaching is continually evolving and continued growth is expected. Chris Gagliardi, Scientific Education Content Manager at ACE, attributes this growth to an expanding body of research reflecting the benefits of health coaching as a practice, an increasing number of job openings, improvements in educational efforts, increased public knowledge and a more defined scope of practice.

Gagliardi also notes that health coaching is “becoming an integral piece of the allied health continuum.” That factor alone holds the power to shape the future of the field. As a result, an increasing number of creative and unique work environments demanding the services of health coaches are starting to appear. According to Gagliardi, a few of the “out-of-the-box” settings in which health coaches work include pain management clinics, human resources offices, group coaching settings, insurance businesses, diabetes prevention programs and skilled nursing facilities.

Several of these environments and others are highlighted below. If you’re interested in expanding your health coaching career, consider exploring opportunities in one or more of these diverse and flexible work environments.

Fitness Centers. Perhaps the most common and obvious environment where a health coach might find employment is in fitness centers. Adopting holistic lifestyle coaching in addition to physical fitness training is a growing trend in fitness centers. Employing health coaches allows fitness centers to expand their services and offer something unique to deconditioned patrons. In fact, many currently certified personal trainers are adding certified health coach to their list of credentials (Martin, 2017).

Clinical Spaces. As research continues to demonstrate the increase in hypokinetic diseases and conditions, the need for health coaching and professionals versed in behavior change also increases. Medical and skilled nursing facilities, hospitals, clinics, diabetes-prevention programs and physicians’ offices are beginning to recognize the value of adding a health coach to their list of staff members and services. Primary care providers, such as doctors and clinicians, do not have enough time or training to fully educate their patients on the complexity of health behaviors and behavior change. Instead, the majority of time is spent helping patients manage a chronic condition versus prevent or reverse that condition (American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 2019). A health coach can integrate his or her services in clinical settings to bridge the gap between patient care and disease management and patient education and prevention (Bennett et al., 2010; Digate Muth, 2017).

“When it comes to non-communicable diseases, behavioral change is a key to successful prevention and management, and health coaching is the best method for partnering with another person to collaborate on safe and effective goals determined by the person seeking change,” says Gagliardi. “As the healthcare landscape changes, health coaching will become just as important as the work performed by any other allied health professional. Imagine how powerful it will be when all healthcare professionals take a team approach toward client-centered care that includes health coaches, and the client is leading the charge for changing the behaviors he or she wants to change.”

Day Spas, Wellness Resorts, and Cooperative and Integrative Wellness Organizations. These facilities are popular places for health coaching services, as they tend to focus on holistic wellness and provide services that support physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health dimensions. These facilities are “all encompassing” and work to promote lifestyle balance for their patrons—a perfect fit for a trained health coach.

Corporate Wellness Organizations. The corporate wellness market has increased exponentially in recent years. Being “well at work” is a primary focus for many large and small employers. In 2013, the US Department of Labor and the Department of Health and Human Services published a report detailing that more than 80% of companies in the United States with more than 50 employees offer some type of corporate wellness benefit.

Research has continued to demonstrate the value of workplace wellness and its positive impact on mental health in the workplace, absenteeism rates, employee engagement, and occupational satisfaction (Oppenheim, 2019; WELCOA, 2019; WELCOA, 2012). Health coaches are ideally positioned to support this growing trend and provide necessary services aimed at improving the health and well-being of employees nationwide.

Educational Institutions. According to the Centers for Disease and Prevention (CDC), the prevalence of obesity in children aged 2-19 is 18.5% and affects 13.7 million children and adolescents (CDC, 2019). Further, children and adolescents aren’t the only members of the younger population who suffer from complex health issues. College students face different stressors that contribute to poor health. These include lack of sleep and physical activity, alcohol use and general stress from the expectations of a college experience (CDC, 2016). Health coaches are needed in a variety of school environments to help students of all ages combat the various health-behavior issues they face in a contemporary society.

Companies, Non-profits and State-/Federal-level Organizations. Certified health coaches are recognized as essential collaborators in improving the health and well-being of the American public. We are starting to see the addition of certified health-coaching positions in companies such as FitBit, Volunteers of America, Jenny Craig weight loss centers, Anthem, religious organizations and community health centers.

The Take-Home Message

Perhaps the biggest take-away here (and one that requires the most reflection and mindful focus) is that a skilled health coach has the unique ability to cultivate opportunities for positive change in any environment. As a result, clients feel capable of designing a new lifestyle that prioritizes prevention and nurtures a personal path toward optimal wellness. 

“After learning about and being trained as a health coach,” says Gagliardi, “I found that coaching itself is a flexible art that can be applied in all settings. I just needed to be open to the idea of identifying coachable moments while honoring the autonomy of the clients and people I interact with.” Truthfully and beautifully stated.

References and Recommended Reading

Why More Personal Trainers are Becoming Health Coaches

Workplace Wellness Program Study

Childhood Obesity Facts

College Health and Safety

Interested in becoming an ACE Certified Health Coach?