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Health Educators


For as long as medical science has existed, there have been doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals who have educated the public about what they could do to live healthier lives, stay safe during infectious disease outbreaks, and otherwise avoid illness and early death. In the United States, the field became professionalized in 1872 with the founding of the American Public Health Association.

The influenza pandemic of 1918 (which is estimated to have killed at least 50 million worldwide, with about 675,000 deaths occurring in the United States), serious polio outbreaks of the late 1940s and early 1950s (which disabled an average of more than 35,000 people each year), and other health crises fueled a need for specialized workers who could educate the public about diseases and their prevention and treatment, the ins and outs of the health care system, and other topics. In 1950, the Society for Public Health Education, was founded to represent the professional interests of health educators and students. The National Commission for Health Education Credentialing was founded in 1988 to establish quality standards in health education. In 1990, the first certified health education specialist exam was administered, and in 2011, the commission launched the master certified health education specialist credentialing exam.

Health educators played an important role in public education during the COVID-19 pandemic, which began in late 2019. Educators were given with the daunting task of teaching the public about the highly infectious coronavirus, steps that could be taken to reduce its spread, treatments for the infection, and the value of receiving a vaccine to reduce the chances of contracting and spreading the potentially deadly illness. Despite misinformation and outright lies about COVID-19 on social media and other sources, the work of health educators helped provide the public with trusted, actionable information that gradually reduced the spread of the virus.

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