Wellness Program Administrator – A Day in the Life

Worker illness and injury costs employers over $225 billion every year, according to the CDC. Chronic disease costs the US economy another $1 trillion annually. Obesity creates more frequent and costly worker injuries and compensation claims. All these factors, combined with rising health insurance premiums, eat away at a company’s bottom line. But corporate wellness programs reduce all of these costs and come with knock-on benefits, too. Healthier eating, regular exercise, and less stress all have measurable positive impacts on productivity. In the final calculation, wellness programs are an incredibly lucrative investment.

Corporate wellness programs are an $8 billion industry in the US and a $40 billion industry globally. That’s despite the fact that less than 10 percent of the global workforce has access to wellness programs. This is big business with major room for growth. According to the BLS (2019), openings for health educators and community health workers will increase 11 percent between 2016 and 2028, a rate much faster than the average for all US occupations (5 percent).

Wellness program administrators oversee health and wellness plans and tailor them to fit the population they’re serving. While the biggest areas of growth for this profession are in corporate positions, wellness program administrators can also work in the public sector to bring health and wellness to the broader community.

If you want to get a glimpse into the life of a wellness program administrator, read on.

Work Environment

Wellness program administrators often work in corporate settings, addressing the health and wellness needs of employees. But they can also work for the public sector or nonprofits in addressing community health issues. While wellness program administrators may call an office home base, no one ever got healthy simply sitting in an office. Wellness program administrators are expected to attend the programs they design and also perform outreach that encourages people to participate.

Clinical Team

No matter where they work, wellness program administrators need to coordinate between stakeholders. Generally, those stakeholders fall into two camps: leadership and community.

  • A wellness program administrator needs to coordinate with the leadership (of either a city, company, or organization) to identify the needs of the community (employees, constituents, or target population).
  • Then, the wellness program administrator will need to perform outreach towards that community to get their involvement in a particular set of health and wellness programs.
  • Finally, the wellness program administrator will analyze the results of those programs, and report back to leadership—where the cycle can begin again.

Typical Daily Responsibilities of Wellness Program Administrators

The responsibilities of a wellness program administrator vary, depending upon where they work and what group they serve. A large part of the job, in fact, is identifying what health needs their clientele have and then designing programs which will engage them in an effective manner.

Some typical daily responsibilities for a wellness program administrator include:

  • Identifying the health needs of a specific population
  • Coordinating with leadership to design health and wellness goals
  • Developing programs to address issues of health and wellness
  • Assessing efficacy of health programs with quantitative and qualitative methods
  • Providing one-on-one health and fitness consultations
  • Promoting health and wellness programs through outreach
  • Forming partnerships with the wider community
  • Designing health and wellness budgets
  • Leading health activity sessions

For a wellness program administrator, the goal isn’t just physical health, though. Wellness is a holistic concept. Devising ways to get a population both physically and mentally healthy is a core responsibility of a wellness program administrator.

Required Skills & Knowledge in Wellness Program Administration

Wellness program administration is a people-facing role and administrators need to be personable, communicative, and motivating. Furthermore, they may be required to hold basic competencies in the field of healthcare: a basic life support certification, for example, or a license to perform first aid CPR. Depending on the precise responsibilities of the job, they may even be asked to maintain a certain level of fitness. Finally, wellness program administrators will need some business and analytical skills such as an understanding of statistics and marketing.

The administration of wellness programs that not only work, but also get people engaged, is no small task. This requires a complex suite of both health knowledge and business sense: from nutrition, to marketing, to wellness screenings, to statistics. And while it’s possible to start work with only a bachelor’s degree, over a third of wellness program administrators have a master’s degree, according to data from Salary.com.

For master’s degrees, wellness program administrators generally look to one of two options: a master’s in healthcare administration (MHA) or a master’s in public health (MPH). An MHA will focus primarily on the business fundamentals and analytical tools necessary to run effective, large-scale projects, and leaving specific healthcare knowledge for elective classes. An MPH, on the other hand, will focus entirely on how to address public health issues with tailored programming, but spend comparatively little time on the business and administration of those programs.

As the industry grows, it’s possible that more master’s programs in health and wellness management, like the one at the University of Wisconsin, will become available.

Certification for Wellness Program Administrators

While it’s not a requirement to practice, many wellness program administrators choose to pursue professional certification. Most certifications do not pertain specifically to wellness program administration, but instead to health education.

To hold a professional certification is to demonstrate both one’s expertise in the industry and also one’s commitment to continuing education and professional development. By far the most well-respected certifications in this category come from the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing (NCHEC) in the form of the Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) and Master Certified Health Education Specialist (MCHES) designations.

In order to be eligible for the CHES designation, applicants must be able to show completion of both a bachelor’s degree and 25 semester credits of coursework specific to the NCHEC’s “Areas of Responsibility of Health Education Specialists.”

Once deemed eligible, applicants will then need to pass a 150-question, three-hour, competency-based exam. Registration fees total between $220 and $370, depending on the time of registration and the student or professional status of the applicant. Once passed, applicants will earn the CHES designation, which must be renewed every five years by completing 75 hours of continuing education.

The MCHES designation is for those who have worked in the field for a minimum of five years. If an applicant does not already hold the CHES designation, then they will need a master’s degree in a relevant field in addition to those five years of work experience, and they’ll also need two verification forms to corroborate their achievements.

Once deemed eligible, candidates must pass a three-hour, 150-question, competency-based exam. Exam fees total between $285 and $435, depending on an applicant’s timing and tenure. If the exam is passed, the MCHES designation is earned. It must be renewed every five years by completing 75 hours of continuing education.

Matt Zbrog
Matt Zbrog

Matt Zbrog is a writer and researcher from Southern California. Since 2018, he’s written extensively about emerging issues in healthcare administration and public health, with a particular focus on progressive policies that empower communities and reduce health disparities. His work centers around detailed interviews with researchers, professors, and practitioners, as well as with subject matter experts from professional associations such as the American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL) and the American College of Health Care Executives (ACHCA).

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