Becoming a health coach is a great way to use your passion for health and wellness to positively support clients as they navigate health challenges. As the healthcare industry continues to shift its focus from disease management to prevention, health coaches provide essential services. Becoming a health coach allows you to make a positive impact on the lives of others while earning a living. You can find a career that is both financially and personally rewarding.
Interested in getting into the field but don’t know where to start? This guide explores how to become an effective health coach including the steps needed to launch a career and build a thriving business.
Table of Contents
- How To Become a Health Coach
- Health Coach Career Opportunities
- Build Your Practice
- Popular Questions
What Is a Health Coach?
Health coaches help clients gain control over their health by tackling diet, exercise, stress management, time management, personal relationships, and much more. Working closely with clients, health coaches help steer clients toward a path that will improve their health and longevity.
A health coach partners with clients to implement healthy lifestyle changes.
Clients may need support to manage a chronic condition like diabetes, an autoimmune disorder, or obesity. Individuals might also be interested to learn how to prevent chronic illness but lack the necessary knowledge base, and struggle to find a starting point or incorporate appropriate new habits on their own.
Health coaches take a positive, inspirational approach to client care. They work to motivate clients and guide them to make sustainable lifestyle changes. The work of health coaches and holistic health coaches alike not only impacts clients but society as a whole.
In the United States:
- 133 million people currently suffer from 1 or more chronic illnesses
- Chronic illness is the leading cause of death and disability
- Over half of Americans report feeling stressed
Health coaches are at the forefront when it comes to the prevention and decrease of chronic illness. Coaches may work as part of a healthcare team in a clinic, hospital or other corporate settings, choose an entrepreneurial path managing their own practice and clients or choose a combination of both.
Think this is the right career for you? Here’s how to get started.
How To Become a Health Coach
Follow these steps to start the path toward health coaching.
1. Find a Certification Program
The first step to getting started as a health coach is to get trained. Although you don’t need a specialized degree, you do need an approved and certified training program that will help you build a solid foundation of skills and knowledge. A high-quality program will provide the groundwork you need to help your clients succeed in their health goals.
There are many health coaching programs available. To find the right one for you, clearly define your goals and spend time doing your research. First, select an area of health coaching that interests you the most. Most programs offer a comprehensive curriculum, covering the fundamentals of coaching and motivational techniques along with the requisite study of health and wellness topics. You may also learn about specific topics such as the basics of immunity and digestion, hormone balance and how it impacts health, mental health and wellness principles, and more.
Other programs are geared toward specific niches like natural health and wellness, in which you would learn about iridology, herbal medicine, and other nature-based health topics. You might also specialize in maternal health and wellness, offering coaching services to people throughout their pregnancy, or you could work exclusively with children.
Make note of each program’s specializations, curriculum, instructors, expert resources, credentials, and other information to guide your decision.
Even more important is to make sure the program is approved by the National Board for Health and Wellness Coaching (NB-HWC). Health coaches who graduate from an approved program are eligible to test for board certification.
As health coaching becomes an integral part of healthcare, the American Medical Association (AMA) has been working with the NB-HWC to create standards for health coaches. Together, both organizations have outlined current procedural terminology (CPT) codes that allow health coaches to report procedures and services to others in the medical industry such as doctors, insurance companies, and accreditation facilities, and bill for these procedures and services. Under these codes, you would need to be certified by NB-HWC or the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing (NCHEC) to have your services reimbursed by insurance companies. This opens you up to a wider range of clients because they don’t have to pay as much out of pocket.
Program costs vary widely. They run from as little as $700 to as much as $7,000. With such a wide range, you should be able to find a program that meets the budget you can afford to invest in your new career.
2. Complete the Course
After finding the best program for your career goals and budget, it’s time to enroll and complete the course. Some health coach programs take as little as three months to complete, while others can take a year or more. Many of the shorter programs have set schedules for lectures and coursework, while the longer programs tend to let students work at their own pace.
Courses also differ in how much you’ll interact with other class members and instructors. Some courses are more experiential while others are self-guided. Find one that integrates into your schedule and fits with your career timeline.
Completing the required training is only the beginning. To become an effective health coach, you will need practice. A great training program will teach you how to develop the necessary skills but nothing will help more than real-world practice. Communication, self-awareness, and high emotional intelligence are a few skills necessary to help your clients. Whether pursuing a health coaching certification to build a full-time career or you are only interested in health coaching part-time, the skills you learn to develop are great life skills to have.
To perfect your skills as a health coach and boost your confidence as a coach, you need to spend time practicing with real clients. A good program offers a combination of lessons, videos, quizzes, and discussions to help you retain the material, alongside practical applications of what you’ve learned. Most programs require hands-on training during the course to help you feel prepared.
3. Get Your Board Certification
Research shows that health coaches and their much-needed services have a huge impact on chronic disease. As such, the AMA has approved CPT III codes for health coaches to allow for reimbursement by insurance. While these codes are considered temporary for 5 years, they can be renewed. These changes are viewed as a step towards establishing health coaching as not only a recognized profession but as a “respected, esteemed career path for those who want to change lives.”
Seen as a breakthrough for health coaches, the American Medical Association (AMA) has approved the creation of new Category III CPT® codes for health coaching. The proposal was submitted by the National Board for Health and Wellness Coaching (NBHWC). These Health and Well-Being Coaching CPT® codes went into effect on January 1, 2020.
If your health coaching practice qualifies under these regulations, your services may be eligible for reimbursement. One of the requirements is that a health coach is board certified.
Hopefully, these changes will open up job opportunities for health coaches and will increase access to health coaching support. To explore job opportunities for health coaches, check out our article, “Health Coach Jobs: Careers in health coaching plus jobs you can do at home”.
Additionally, having your board certification helps you build a trusting relationship with your clients. When you’re certified, clients may see you as being more credible, making it easier to connect and guide them as they navigate through their personal health and wellness journey.
To become a board-certified health coach, you must meet the following criteria:
- Hold an associate degree or higher in any field or have completed 4,000 hours of equivalent work experience
- Graduate from an NB-HWC-approved health coaching program
- Complete and log 50 coaching sessions
- Pass the board certification exam
The certifying exam highlights your skills and abilities, focusing on four core areas of health coaching -1. Coaching structure;
2. Coaching process;
3. Health and wellness;
4. professional ethics and legal considerations
The test consists of 150 multiple-choice questions and takes about 4.5 hours to complete. You can only take the exam at approved testing locations a few times a year. Start the application process early to secure your spot.
4. Start Practicing
Working with clients can be challenging, rewarding, and life-changing for both you and your clients! While it can sometimes take time to build your confidence as a new health coaching professional, the best way is to simply get started.
Remember, there is no such thing as perfect. Most programs require hands-on experience while you are in training, so take advantage of this opportunity. One of the ways to do this is to work with clients you don’t know; don’t try to use your family or friends for all of your hours. Consider volunteering your time with different organizations. This is a great way to practice and give back to your community.
With each new client, you will improve your people skills, and you’ll get a better sense of your strengths and weaknesses while building your confidence as a professional in the industry. Did we mention how good it will feel to see real results from each client?
Health Coach Career Opportunities
Health coaching is a popular field with exciting career growth. Plus you have the flexibility to create your own career path. There are opportunities to work in hospitals, private practices, corporate settings, or start your own business. While getting started, a lot of coaches launch their private practice as a side business.
Still, in early growth phases, the health coaching industry is already valued at over $6 billion and is projected to grow 11 percent by 2028. In a recent survey, 91% of patients said they need help to manage a chronic health condition. The industry is booming, and with the growing awareness of coaching services, career opportunities for coaches continue to grow.
Work in Hospitals, Clinics, or Private Practices
If you like working in formal healthcare settings, look into positions within hospitals or clinics. More clinics and primary care teams are adding health coaches to their staff as they focus on preventing and managing chronic illnesses.
Corporate health coaches help companies promote health and wellness among their employees by teaching them the skills they need to live more healthfully. This sector is expected to grow to $15.5 billion by 2024 as more companies strive to lower healthcare costs and encourage a more productive workforce.
As a corporate health coach, you would be part of company initiatives to improve the overall health of employees. You may assist with on-campus or virtual fitness and nutritional programs, or you may guide or lead education sessions to help employees manage stress or improve sleep habits. You may also help a company set up work-life balance policies and other guidelines that positively impact employee health.
Virtual Health Programs
If you like variety, check out a virtual health program. These programs are a great option for clients because they’re flexible. You can work with a bigger client pool by seeing clients virtually. You may also work remotely so you don’t have to relocate to another city for your job.
Companies offering virtual health coaching provide a variety of specialties. Some offer patient education and health training to help patients with any goal, while others specialize in one area such as the management of diabetes. As part of this role, you may also create courses, webinars, blog posts, and other educational materials. If you’re interested in making healthcare accessible, consider working with virtual health programs.
Health and Wellness Companies
Your health coaching career path isn’t limited to corporate employers, clinics, and hospitals. You may also work with a health and wellness company as part of a larger team. Health and wellness companies offer a wide range of services, so there is an option for your preferred career path. Many day spas, for example, have added health coaching to their services for a more holistic approach to self-care.
You could also work in wellness tourism, helping clients improve their health through travel. In this area, you could contribute by working on cruise ships or at a resort, or you could stay in your hometown and help clients plan health and wellness-focused vacations.
Private Health Coaching Practice
If you’re the entrepreneurial type, you can open your own private practice. Starting your own business gives you the flexibility to set your own hours and pursue a specific type of clientele. With a robust and growing economy, the health and wellness industry provides ample opportunities for entrepreneurs.
Private practice health coaches may also collaborate with functional or integrative medical practitioners. You can guide clients through their recommended treatment plans and support them as they adjust to their new, healthier habits. You might also take a hybrid approach, working for individuals and collaborating with physicians and other healthcare providers.
If you choose to start your own coaching business alongside a full-time career, check your employment agreement to make sure you’re not violating a non-compete agreement.
Build Your Practice With Sofia
Whichever path you choose, you can start your business more easily using the Sofia Health platform. Sofia offers a turn-key business solution that lets you manage every aspect of your business from scheduling and billing to intake forms and client messaging. Just set up a web page so your clients (and future potential clients) can easily find, book, and pay for your products and services.
Because health coaching isn’t practiced as widely as traditional medicine, there are still some misconceptions surrounding the field, here are some of the most common questions:
Is Health Coaching a Legitimate Job?
Although health coaching is a relatively new field, it is a legitimate career. There is growing evidence that health coaching is an effective part of integrated health care. As more renowned institutions add health coaches to their staff, the industry will continue to gain credibility.
In 2022, more than 120,000 people were working as health coaches, and the number continues to grow. Health coaching is an in-demand job with healthy career prospects. It is a fulfilling career that makes a huge impact on people’s quality of life.
What Do Health Coaches Do?
A health coach helps patients excel at managing their health goals. When you meet with clients, you assess their health and their goals by asking questions and getting to know them. Then you work with them to develop guidelines and steps they can take to improve their healthy habits and eliminate behaviors that are negatively impacting their health. To help your clients, you build a plan that sets goals and milestones they can reach to improve their most optimal personal well-being.
Many people hire coaches to help them with their well-being, which includes improving overall nutrition, managing stress, learning how to build healthy relationships, proper sleep hygiene, and much more.
As a health coach, you provide a supportive environment for your clients as they navigate their personal health challenges.
Health coaching often covers key areas including, nutrition, fitness, smoking, time management, sleep, activity, and stress. You might help someone balance one or more of these health aspects, or you may work with a client who has recently been diagnosed with a chronic disease or who is in recovery from a major event like a heart attack or stroke.
Health coaches need to understand how to help clients take their own positive steps rather than telling them what to do.
Is There a Difference Between a Certified Health Coach and a Holistic Health Coach?
The main difference between a certified health coach and a holistic health coach lies in their focus. Health coaches work with clients to motivate sustainable lifestyle changes to improve their health and wellness. As a health coach, you learn about ethical considerations and an overview of medical regulations.
Holistic health coaches help clients improve their mental and physical health, guiding them through diet and exercise, work/life balance, spirituality, personal relationships, time management, and more. If you’re interested in becoming a certified holistic health coach, look at certifications recommended by the American Naturopathic Medical Accreditation Board.
What Are Some of the Major Differences Between a Health Coach and a Nutritionist?
Nutritionists are experts in food and nutrition. Dietitians and nutritionists use food and nutrition to promote health and actively manage the disease. They can plan and carry out food service or nutritional programs to help people lead healthy lives.
Health coaches have a basic understanding of nutrition, but not to the level of a nutritionist. As a health coach, you work with your clients to understand how food may impact their health. You go beyond nutrition to help your clients address all factors of their lifestyle that impact their health.
Nutritionists and dietitians help clients use food to manage and/or optimize their health. For example, a nutritionist may help a client determine what parts of their diet may be causing their health issues and develop a meal plan. Nutritionists may also help individuals manage their relationship with food, helping to develop healthier eating habits.
Health coaches look at every factor of a client’s lifestyle to help set healthy and sustainable goals. This could incorporate different coachings such as setting healthy behaviors and boundaries around food which could in turn help with weight loss or decrease stress and anxiety around unhealthy eating behaviors.
Nutritionists get vastly different training and have varying levels of clinical experience than health coaches. The nutrition and dietitian industry is heavily regulated and their titles, required experience, and scope of practice vary from state to state.
If you would like to book with a Nutritionist, Dietitian, or Health Coach, visit Sofia Health.
How Is a Holistic Health Coach Different from a Wellness Coach or a Life Coach?
Health coach and wellness coach are two terms that are often used to refer to the same career; however, they are different. Health coaches help clients manage health-related conditions like chronic illness by helping them identify the root cause and make positive changes. Wellness coaches are focused on a client’s overall well-being. Where a holistic health coach would help a client set goals to change bad habits that contribute to a chronic illness, a wellness coach might teach the client strategies to manage their interpersonal relationships or other factors to help improve their overall well-being.
Life coaches typically guide clients through personal development and growth or help with various life events such as divorce or grief. A life coach helps clients identify barriers to their goals and take steps to achieve them.
What Are the Benefits of Being a Health Coach?
Health coaching is a growing field with many career prospects. It gives you the chance to connect with your clients and help them better their lives, which is always rewarding. You also get the chance to inspire others through your own dedication to a healthy lifestyle.
Health coaching is flexible and offers the chance to make money through various income streams. Health coaches can work with clients, create content, consult for businesses, host seminars, and much more. It’s a career path that offers you a work/life balance that works for your lifestyle.
What Are the Most Important Health Coach Requirements?
As a health coach, you work directly with people, and there are many “people skills” you should have to improve your chances of success. You need to have a passion for health and wellness, but you also need to have a knack for engaging your clients and asking them the right questions to help them achieve results (the coaching piece). Your clients will likely experience better results when you can relate to them. To successfully work with clients, a health coach should have these communication skills and personality traits:
- Active and engaged listening skills
- Motivational interviewing to help clients identify their own “why” for making positive changes
- Goal setting to guide your clients through their vision and help them stay on track in the long run.
- Warm and caring
If you want to start your own practice, you also need good business acumen and marketing skills to find new clients and manage the daily aspects of your business.
How Much Can I Make as a Health Coach
Glassdoor reported an average salary of $53,786 including base salary and bonuses. Salary.com puts the median income higher at $62,847. In this field, earning potential varies based on geographical location, specialty, and other factors, including a practitioner’s number of revenue streams.
Working for a company, a clinic or a hospital could come with a salary of $70,000 annually. However, if you open your own business and supplement client work with seminars, content, virtual coaching, and consulting, you may be able to make more than $100,000 a year. Forbes notes that this industry is projected to grow much faster than many others, so coaches have more earning potential than they might in other fields.
Tap Into Your Potential
Health and wellness coaching is a high-demand job in a field exploding with growth. With a love for health, a desire to help others, a positive approach to client care, and consistent hard work, you can build a business and career that’s financially and personally rewarding.
When you’re ready to launch your business, sign up as a practitioner on Sofia. We have the resources you need to start and manage your business smoothly so you can focus on working with your clients instead of running your practice.