From Registered Nurse To Health Coach: Why I Left The Bedside To Follow My Passion
By Lee Nelson
When Melinda Huffman worked as a cardiovascular clinical nurse specialist, she engaged her patients differently. She didn’t have that traditional expectation that patients should do as she directed or instructed them to do simply because she was the healthcare expert.
“I connected with them first through the social context of their lives, what was important to them about their health and why, and how did the treatment plan affect their daily lives and the lives of those closest to them,” she said.
She fit in well with being a health coach nurse and ended up co-founding The National Society of Health Coaches. She now is principal of Miller & Huffman Outcome Architects, LLC, headquartered in Winchester, Tenn.
The company provides health coaching consulting services, specializing in disease management, wellness and care transition program, client engagement approach, health coaching policies and other related services.
How did you get into the health coaching industry while still working as a nurse?
Eleven years ago, Huffman and the other co-founders of the society discovered the works of William Miller, Ph.D., in motivational interviewing. MI is an evidence-based approach in behavioral health that was similar to how Huffman engaged patients in the past without even realizing it.
“We knew this should be an important part of a health coaching education, training, and certification program that should be offered to healthcare providers to help improve health outcomes and lower overall healthcare costs,” she says.
They now teach clinicians and allied healthcare providers how to effectively engage their patients by changing their mindset and conversation to actually create a 50/50 patient-provider partnership in health with each patient they see, regardless of the healthcare or wellness setting.
What special certifications, personality traits, training, etc. does it take to work in the field as a nurse health coach?
“The number one characteristic of a great health coach is to be an active listener,” Huffman adds.
She says that not all health coach certification programs are the same. Some are not evidence-based, and some are only market-driven and/or lack a scientific foundation or are not clinically-based.
“These types of training programs have resulted from the increased demand for health coaches and wellness coaches, and have culminated in a plethora of training programs with wide variations in coaching definitions, content, attributes, and eligibility of those who may train.”
She explains that most certifications ignore the medico-legal liability that comes with health coaching and will train most anyone or those with a degree of some type.
The title of health coach is bestowed without the participant having a professionally regulated clinical credential to guide patients with chronic or acute health conditions or those who are at moderate to high risk for the same.
Individuals without a clinical background can certainly be trained to be wellness coaches, where clients are looking to a wellness coach to help them maintain or achieve a general state of wellness, she says.
The Centers for Disease Control define wellness as “the degree to which one feels positive and enthusiastic about life.” There is a need for this type of coach as well, Huffman explains.
Why did you start the National Society of Health Coaches? What does it offer to other health coaches?
The mission of the National Society of Health Coaches is to advance evidence-based health coaching in clinical practice and in allied health.
The society defines health coaching as the use of evidence-based skillful conversation, clinical strategies and interventions to actively and safely engage clients in health behavior change to better self-manage their health, health risk, and acute or chronic health conditions.
Are there any organizations or associations that promote or help nurse health coaches?
The American Association of Occupational Health Nurses and the American Nurses Association, Huffman states.
What can nurses do that health coaches without a nursing degree can’t do?
“Honestly, nurses are the best equipped discipline to be health coaches due to their vast clinical knowledge of patient/client assessment, planning, intervention, and evaluation of care and outcomes for all health conditions,” she says.
“Other disciplines can certainly use health coaching skills in their fields of expertise, just not as completely as nurses can and do.”
What is the salary range of a health coach nurse?
Nurse health coaches are found working in all healthcare and wellness settings. Health coaching is typically used with patients/clients who have the mental capacity to be engaged and guided in health and wellness.
Salaries may include a specialty differential above a staff registered nurse. This all depends on the employer, she says.
Nurses are also testing the water in independent practice, using their RN license and charging clients a market-driven price in their locale for services. Clients are responsible for this payment.
What is the job outlook for health coach nurses and why?
“The job outlook is very bright. The country is slowing, but steadily transitioning its focus from “sickness” to that of wellness and prevention,” she adds.
However, because hundreds of thousands of people continue to struggle with obesity, diabetes and other chronic conditions due to various reasons, it’s likely to be another two to three decades before this total healthcare transformation is realized.
“The workplace will remain keenly interested in providing guidance to employees to improve their health, improve workplace absenteeism and presentism, and to decrease the cost of care,” Huffman explains.