As the Manager of Health Strategy & Well-Being at Curi, a healthcare company for the North Carolina Medical Society, Jason Horay has a passion for helping people improve their lives. Early in his career, Jason knew medical school wasn’t for him, so he found another way to enter into the health and wellness sphere. He earned his bachelor’s degree in exercise/sports medicine from High Point University and his master’s degree in health promotion from Mississippi State University, which launched a career in corporate health and wellness where he held fitness center positions at companies like Cisco Systems and IBM.
Next, Jason worked as the manager of the Live for Life Program, an employee wellness program at Duke University, where he was introduced to the challenge of working with healthcare providers on their physical, emotional, and mental well-being. Seven years later, Jason started his current role at Curi, where he continues to create health-focused strategies for his clients, specifically focused on emotional and mental health.
With his varied knowledge within the health and wellness field, Jason brings his expertise to the University of Wisconsin Health and Wellness Management online program as an instructor for HWM 315: Workplace Wellness Program Management, HWM 405: Survey of Information Technology in Wellness, and HWM 480: Employee Benefits for Wellness Manager bachelor-level courses. In the following Q&A, Jason explains what students can expect in his classes and a special internship opportunity he was able to create for one UW HWM bachelor’s degree student.
Q: What Drove You to the Health and Wellness Management Industry?
I think the common thread throughout all of my journey is the ability to connect with people. I feel like once you are vulnerable, raw, and just go forward and be who you are—not the person that you think you’re “supposed” to be—that’s when you find out what you need and what you want to do. In my case, as a fitness professional, I thought I always had to upkeep this image of the perfect person who eats everything healthy and exercises every day, and has no problems. And I think oftentimes, that turns people away from your work.
I had to dig deep inside of myself and say, “I don’t want to be that person.” I want to meet my clients where they are. I think wellness is so fluid that it’s an injustice to define wellness as just diet and exercise, and boxing yourself into that image can be a disservice to yourself and others.
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Q: What Are the Challenges You Face in Your Role?
When you work with healthcare providers who are focused on their work and the health of their patients, you need to think outside of the box when it comes to helping them prioritize their own health needs. I can’t just go in and say “rah, rah, rah, everyone eat healthy, exercise more, and have less stress.” It’s a totally different world for these people, because they often give their all to their work and got into the profession in a very selfless way. And, unfortunately, that kind of work ethic means they often suffer from higher rates of burnout, depression, and other mental health challenges.
Q: With All that You Do, Why Also Teach for UW HWM?
I am friends with Debra Lafler—former UW HWM faculty member and the Wellness and Employee Assistance Program Manager at Wisconsin Department of Health Services. She reached out to see if I would be interested in teaching a UW HWM class with her. I said absolutely, because I had past teaching experience, and I was welcomed to the opportunity to really get involved with the UW HWM curriculum, which I found to have a strong well-being focus and on the cutting edge of overall wellness.
I believe teaching in UW HWM really keeps me engaged in the health and wellness management field. I enjoy connecting with my students, especially when I feel that they are trying to make a difference through their education and career.
Q: How Do You Engage with Students Through the Online Degree Format?
In one of my classes, we use a video forum for course discussions. Student videos are simply recorded by an app on their phones, and then they upload the video. One of the discussion topics is to talk about all around well-being and how they would integrate that into their worksite. I think it’s a nice introduction to see and hear the student, and to understand his or her environment—not just a name on a computer screen.
I travel a lot for work, so I schedule phone calls with students while I’m driving. Sometimes they have a question about what they’re going to do after they graduate or what my experience is at my workplace, and what my best advice is for them. And I like that, because I feel like when you can connect with students and share your journey, your evolution, your philosophy—that makes them even more encouraged that they’re in the right place and that they’re not alone in this.
Q: Do You Have an Example of How a Student Excelled in Your Class?
Nathan Casey was one of my students, and he stood out to me because he is a very thoughtful thinker, and he engaged with the course material on a deep level. I challenged myself to really meet him where he was.
There was a time when he was going to drop some classes. So I let him know I had his back—that this is life, and this is a journey that you’re on, and I don’t want you to disregard this commitment that you’ve made to yourself.
When it came time for him to start an internship, I was able to create a student intern opportunity for him here at Curi. He is located in Wisconsin, but we were able to figure out the logistics, and it turned out to be a rewarding experience for both of us.
Q: Why Should Prospective Students Consider UW HWM?
First off, we have an outstanding group of instructors, because we are very passionate about what we do. Two, I believe the curriculum is cutting edge. Everyone does an amazing job with redesigning and revamping the courses, because the space in the field of wellness is dramatically changing every single day.
Third, you have the ability to network with instructors, similar to what Nathan Casey was able to do. Networking can help you to create experiences that can lead you to people and opportunities that advance your career.
Finally, I vouch for the program because you have instructors who are in many different sectors—healthcare, manufacturing, education, and more.
Q: What Advice Do You Have for Prospective and Current UW HWM Students?
When you get into this field, I think you have an obligation to practice humanity, kindness, and gratitude. I want you to be excited to come to class and to engage with peers, faculty, and learning materials. When you’re passionate, I think you have a better sense of fulfillment, meaning, and purpose. Take the time to ask yourself who you are and what you want out of this.
I truly believe that once you get to know yourself, that enables you to be a better health and wellness professional.
Want to learn more about how expert faculty members, like Jason Horay, teach, connect, and prepare UW Health and Wellness Management students for exciting careers in the field? Check out the program’s curriculum or contact an enrollment adviser at 1-877-UW-LEARN (895-3276) or firstname.lastname@example.org