My qualifications as a health education specialist include experiences and work completed during my service as a Community and Youth Education volunteer for the United States Peace Corps in Niger, as a Masters student at Western Illinois University, as a Graduate Assistant in the Health Resources Department of the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs, as an Americorps intern at Southern Illinois Healthcare, and as a Preventive Health Educator in Peace Corps Senegal. This compilation of health education projects and coursework demonstrates my competence as a health educator, as specifically defined by the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing, Inc.’s criteria for responsibilities and competencies of a Health Education Specialist.
Through my experiences as an intern, as a volunteer, and as a professional, I have acquired the knowledge, understanding, and practical experience necessary to effectively assess, plan, implement, and evaluate health education programs as a Health Education Specialist. My motivation for attaining this skill set comes from a strong personal desire to make a positive contribution to the physical, emotional, and spiritual health of those I encounter. In a broad sense I want to participate in community development. Healthy communities are the product of a number of physical, spiritual, and social factors. In order to make a positive contribution it is necessary to affect individual and collective behavior patterns. Before addressing the way people interact with one another, however, it is necessary to secure a number of environmental needs. In the broadest sense, health education is about enacting laws, policies, programs, and general codes of conduct that ensure communities are economically viable, physically healthy, and socially vibrant places to live.
Each community is unique, and when different desires, goals, and world views collide, an effective health educator must act as a conduit for clear cross-cultural communication, as an advocate for social equity, and conduct themselves in a in a manner consistent with the values they espouse.
Health education is, in the narrowest sense, a delicate balancing act between paying attention to unique, individual, marginal concerns, and making decisions that benefit a community as a whole. I believe being a health educator involves assuming the responsibility to achieve health outcomes through a systemic approach that addresses broad environmental determinants, without failing to address the very real, complicated, often conflicting social determinants involved in affecting behavior change.
I believe that healthy, positive behaviors need to be modeled and perceived as realistic and beneficial before they are likely to be adopted. Health educators should be physical embodiments of the lifestyles they promote, and behave in a manner consistent with the choices and actions they espouse. As a Peace Corps volunteer in Niger, West Africa, I held an after school English class for middle school students. I incorporated health lessons into the students’ vocabulary lessons, and facilitated a theatrical training that helped students model and internalize healthy behavior in role-play activities. Promoting sexual health, and the avoidance of risky sexual behavior was difficult in a small, traditional, Muslim village. I was able to convince parents, school officials, and leaders to permit teaching this subject matter, in part, because of my standing in the community: I was not someone whose behavior or lifestyle were at odds with the message I wanted to teach and I knew better than to do it in an offensive or culturally unacceptable manner.
My experiences as a Peace Corps volunteer taught me the value of cross-cultural integration and the responsibility to live and work within a given community’s standards.
It has become clear to me, on a number of occasions and in a variety of situations, that a health educator’s level of academic achievement means considerably less than their ability to make themselves available as a reliable, consistently accurate, accessible resource to those in need. As a graduate assistant for the Health Resources department, I conducted research, developed health education curriculum, and accompanied my supervisor on a number of community mapping trips throughout the state. Mary Jane Clark, my supervisor and head of Health Resources for the IIRA, demonstrated a personable, socially engaging personality that drew community members to her. Her openness and friendly candor made it easier for those who wanted to use her as a resource to do so.
My experience with the IIRA taught me that it isn’t enough to hold a degree, attain adequate knowledge and skills pertaining to health education, or acquire certifications and degrees that prove you have mastered certain skill sets: if you can’t engage people and communicate what you know in a friendly manner, your education is wasted.
I believe strongly that motivated, enthusiastic, well-trained individuals without academic degrees or exclusive credentials are potentially as effective as their degreed counterparts.
Effective community health programming requires both knowledge pertaining to theoretical behavioral models, and the experience necessary to judge which are appropriate in specific situations. As an intern for Southern Illinois Healthcare’s Community Benefits department, I was responsible for implementing a methamphetamine prevention pilot program. As SIH’s community liaison to the Zeigler township, I was responsible for achieving a specific set of health related outcomes within an 11 month period, using a specific prevention model.
The coursework for my masters degree at Western Illinois University prepared me to evaluate which components of the model were realistic under my given circumstances. My work as a Preventive Health Educator in Peace Corps Senegal focused on accurately measuring health indicators in order to develop replicable programs that could be scaled to be effective regionally.
My strengths as a community health educator are in my ability to model and set the example of the behavior I promote, my ability to integrate into new communities and establish positive rapport, and in the newly acquired ability to use health education theory and training to accurately assess and address specific health needs.
Thank you for taking the time to read my portfolio.