Health Coaching For Healthcare Professionals

What is a Health Coach?

A health coach is a professional who works with individuals or groups to support them in achieving their health and wellness goals. Health coaches typically focus on behavior change, lifestyle modification, and education to empower clients to make healthier choices and adopt sustainable habits.

Some common roles and responsibilities of a health coach include:

  • Assessing clients’ current health status, including their diet, exercise habits, stress levels, and overall well-being.
  • Collaborating with clients to set specific, achievable health goals.
  • Providing personalized guidance and support to help clients make healthier choices, such as improving their nutrition, increasing physical activity, managing stress, and getting better sleep.
  • Offering education on topics related to health and wellness.
  • Motivating and empowering clients to overcome obstacles and develop self-efficacy in managing their health.
  • Monitoring clients’ progress and adjusting strategies as needed to help them stay on track.
  • Serving as an accountability partner to help clients stay committed to their goals.

Health coaches may work independently, as part of a healthcare team, or within corporate wellness programs, fitness centers, or healthcare facilities. They may have backgrounds in fields such as nutrition, exercise science, psychology, nursing, or counseling, and they often receive specialized training in health coaching techniques and methodologies.

This article describes the benefits of adding health coaching to your professional practice.

Who Can Become a Health Coach?

Many health coaches start out with a degree in nutrition, counseling, or a related field. For the purpose of this article we are going to focus on the role and credentials of health coaches who are also licensed healthcare professionals, such as physical therapists.

Integrating Health Coaching into Clinical Practice

Evidence supports that the integration of health coaches into primary care can enhance patient outcomes, improve the physician-patient relationship, and ultimately reduce health care costs. In addition to these benefits, health coaches can also help to tackle social determinants of health and health inequities. Patients who receive health coaching are less likely to require expensive interventions such as hospitalizations and surgeries. 

Two essential tenets of health coaching are motivational interviewing and building rapport.

What is Motivational Interviewing?

Motivational Interviewing (MI) is a conversational technique designed to recognize and empower a patient’s intrinsic motivation for change. MI is grounded in the belief that individuals are more likely to make lasting change when they feel they have decision-making power, rather than feeling pressured or coerced.

MI techniques typically involve open-ended questions, reflective listening, affirmations, and summarizing to facilitate exploration of the client’s thoughts, feelings, and motivations. The goal is to elicit and strengthen the individual’s intrinsic motivation for change, rather than imposing external pressure or directives.

As a health coach, integrating motivational interviewing into your practice can increase patient engagement and adherence to treatment plans, and ultimately lead to better health outcomes. 

Rapport = Trust

Building rapport helps health coaches do their job more effectively. To build rapport, you must create an environment where your client feels valued, heard, cared for, and understood. Building rapport means expressing sincere empathy for your client, showing an interest in their health and quality of life, and making them feel like their opinions matter. As you build rapport, your clients will begin to trust you. This motivates them to take a more active role in their own health (known as self-efficacy) and results in improved follow-through with commitments. When your client perceives that you respect them as an individual and have a true interest in their well-being, then rapport will continue to develop. Clients who have a positive rapport with their healthcare provider demonstrate improved health outcomes.

Job Outlook

The job outlook for health coaches in 2024 and beyond is optimistic. People are more conscious about their health and look for coaches to help them better their lives and lower their medical bills. With the rise of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, and obesity, people are seeking guidance on how to lead healthier lifestyles.

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 126,700 health coaches employed nationwide in 2021. Employment in this industry is projected to increase by 12% in the next 10 years. This means there will be an additional 15,200 jobs in this industry by 2031. In 2021 the Global Health Coaching Market was valued at nearly $17 billion. The industry is expected to grow at a rate of 7.4% each year, with an expected worth of nearly $35 billion by 2031.

Oversight & Insurance

The health and wellness field is currently unregulated and no one organization or credentialing board supervises, sets standards for, or provides oversight for the nation’s many health and/or wellness coach certification programs and credentialing bodies. Check with your state board for guidance on independent business practice, as well as their liability insurance requirements for health coaches.

Refer to the NSHC website for Insurance Coding Information: 

For detailed questions about CPT Category III Codes, contact the AMA directly:

How do you become a Certified Health Coach?

There are many in-person and online health and wellness coaching certification and credentialing programs. One such program is offered by the National Society of Health Coaches (NSHC), which certifies and trains health providers in the U.S. and internationally. Their program is designed to allow individuals to study at their own pace. While there is one course of study, testing is different for the licensed health practitioner compared to the unlicensed provider.

Licensed Health Providers test for Health Coach Certification, and upon passing receive the credential CHC (Certified Health Coach). Clinicians who have received certification can provide health coaching in areas covered by their license, as well as general guidance for wellness, healthy eating, exercise, tobacco cessation, weight loss, and stress management.

The unlicensed (Allied Health Provider) tests for a Certificate of Completion. The Certificate of Completion, while not a certification, demonstrates that one has successfully completed the NSHC evidence-based health coaching education program and testing and may provide general guidance for wellness, healthy eating, exercise, tobacco cessation, weight loss, and stress management.

By Laura Norton, MBA, BSN, RN, CHC- General Manager, The National Society of Health Coaches