If you currently work in accounting, HR, marketing, education, business administration, or another field, you can make the jump to the health and wellness field.
In fact, most UW Health and Wellness Management graduates who became wellness coordinators started out in a different field.
“A background in a different discipline can provide invaluable experience when transitioning to a workplace wellness career,” says Theresa Islo, program manager for University of Wisconsin Health and Wellness Management and former director of operations for the Wellness Council of Wisconsin.
So, what’s the first step? How do you actually become a wellness coordinator?
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7 Steps to Becoming a Wellness Coordinator
Before you scan Indeed.com—definitely before you start sending out your resume—do a reality check. Do you have the right combination of education and skills to get hired as a corporate wellness coordinator?
If not, don’t worry. With planning and initiative, you will. Here are seven expert-approved steps.
1. Try a wellness initiative at work.
What’s the best way to find out if you like something? Dip your toe in first. Start a “grassroots” wellness initiative at your workplace.
“Many employers approach wellness as a component of their benefits package, which is how my exposure to worksite wellness began,” Islo says. “And if your organization doesn’t have a wellness program, you may have a blank slate to test out some things and learn from them.”
Send out an interest survey. Schedule weekly “Healthy Lunch Thursdays” with coworkers. Encourage participation in a biometrics screening. Start a running club. That’s how UW Health and Wellness Management graduate and former benefits specialist Jessica Waytashek began her career in corporate wellness. Her running club was a huge success; after earning her bachelor’s degree, she went on to become a wellness coordinator for Fleet Farm and recently, a health coach.
2. Deepen your knowledge of health and business.
Wellness coordinators have an in-depth understanding of two disciplines: health and business. As a wellness professional, you need to make the business case for a wellness program by assessing how a program might affect a company’s bottom line. You’ll also need a holistic understanding of human health, including behavior and anatomy, and knowledge of marketing, employee benefits, program design, and management. You won’t get this kind of well-rounded education from general undergraduate degrees like biology or psychology.
That’s why a degree in health and wellness management is recommended. It gives you the complete toolkit to run a successful corporate wellness program.
“I advocate for programs like UW Health and Wellness Management,” says Stephanie Pereira da Silva, a health and wellness manager at Kimberly-Clark Health Services who has a health promotion degree from UW-Stevens Point.
3. Seek out more formal working experience for your resume.
Apply for a wellness internship, or volunteer at your local YMCA. If you’re in a degree program, take full advantage of your capstone project. Explain exactly what you’re interested in—wellness programming—and learn as much as possible from the experience.
Don’t underestimate the power an internship, volunteer position, or capstone can have on your resume. For her capstone project, UW student Emma Skelton designed a weight management program called “Maintain Don’t Gain” for the YMCA. It was a huge hit. A few months later, she accepted a position as the wellness center manager for Mercy Hospital Wellness Center in Minnesota.
4. Work on your people skills.
As a wellness coordinator, you need strong people skills. This means being an empathic listener, strong communicator, effective promoter, and inspiring leader. It’s okay if you weren’t born with these skills. In fact, most leaders weren’t. Just plan on actively honing them before becoming a wellness coordinator.
Islo says, “I always encourage budding wellness professionals to strengthen their interpersonal and leadership skills, especially in areas such as meeting facilitation, conflict resolution, and motivational interviewing.”
So, how can you hone all of these “people” skills? A health and wellness management degree can help you with this, too. The University of Wisconsin program was designed for working adults who might need to polish the soft skills mentioned above. That’s why the bachelor’s curriculum and master’s curriculum incorporate interpersonal skill-building courses, including:
- Leadership and Change Management in Health
- Persuasion Skills for Wellness Managers
- Behavior and Development in Organizations
5. Wear your passion on your sleeve.
Most health and wellness professionals and students say they are passionate about living well in their personal lives. They are avid bikers, weight lifters, yogis, or nutrition buffs.
Grad Cynthia Okeleye, on her gateway to a wellness career: “I am really into strength training. I notice women don’t really lift weights at the gym. I enjoy competing with the guys because they don’t expect to see a female lifting!”
You don’t have to be perfect, but be aware that wellness coordinators often serve as role models for their coworkers. People can feel your passion—and they will gravitate toward it.
6. Earn a wellness certification.
This one is optional for an entry-level wellness professional, but keep wellness certifications in mind. It could greatly benefit your career, especially if you are aiming for a very specific wellness position.
For example, UW grad Kris Greener has pursued two certifications—a health coaching certificate and Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES)—in preparation for a career in community health promotion.
“To maintain credibility as a health and wellness manager, you need education and credentials,” Pereira da Silva says. “I have many certifications in both fitness and nutrition, including the CHES credential.”
7. Join an association.
Getting involved with an association is a smart move for any wellness professional. Pereira da Silva is a member of many organizations and also speaks at the national level.
Islo says, “Through professional associations, I was able to pursue training and development. I also served on a volunteer board of directors that provided important experience in dealing with management issues that I would not have been exposed to.”
Here is a list of wellness associations, recommended by Islo:
- Wellness Council of America (WELCOA)
- Wellness Council of Wisconsin (or the local wellness organization in your area)
- National Wellness Institute
- Art & Science of Health Promotion Institute
- Health Enhancement Research Organization
Take the Next Step
Ready to explore an online Health and Wellness Management master’s or bachelor’s degree? Start here.
You can make the jump to health and wellness. And we can help. If you have questions about a wellness career or the UW degree program, an enrollment adviser would love to help. Call 608-262-2011 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.