Health educators help people stay healthy by developing and implementing programs that emphasize healthy living. They work in a range of environments and many take a unique path to get to their health care career. We recently caught up with Ashley Simpson to discuss how she freelanced her way into a full-time career doing what she’s most passionate about: helping people live healthier lives.
ExploreHealthCareers.org (EHC): Thanks for your time today, Ashley! We’re intrigued by your interesting path to where you are today. Can you share more about where you started your health care career path?
Ashley Simpson (AS): I started teaching group fitness during my first year at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. Over my college years, I became involved in a variety of roles at the Rec Center. I fell in love with providing health seekers the tools they needed to live their healthiest life as well as supporting and mentoring the teams I managed to do the same. I decided to pursue graduate education in Public Health and my health care career has taken off from there!
EHC: What did you study at William & Mary?
AS: I have a BA in Psychology and an MPH in Community Health Education. I’ve also collected quite a few certifications along the way, including: ACE Personal Trainer, ACE Group Fitness Instructor, Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and a few more specific fitness certifications, including CPR/AED/first aid.
EHC: How did you choose the health education route?
AS: It may sound corny, but I followed my heart. I’m super lucky to get to do something that I love every day. Whether educating in the classroom or on the fitness floor, it is an honor to have a person trust you with coaching and supporting them when they are making changes towards a healthier life.
EHC: What is your current title and what do you do?
AS: I currently work full-time in corporate wellness as an Exercise Specialist with Optum/Plus One. I get to wear a variety of hats with this position — no two days are the same, which I find wonderful! My day-to-day work includes personal training, teaching group fitness, health education through monthly print materials or on-site events, interacting with patrons, administrative tasks and more.
Both my formal and non-formal education contributed to me landing this job. It also took some persistence. I originally started with this company in a part-time capacity, teaching group fitness classes at a variety of sites in Virginia and then California. I applied for full-time positions a couple of times, but either the timing or the fit with the team wasn’t right. After about 1.5 years part time, I applied for this position and it was a perfect fit!
EHC: Do you have any advice for students who are considering entering the health education field?
AS: A few things:
- Get involved early on and try things out, whether through working part time or volunteering. This is a field where it’s very important to feel passion for your work and sometimes finding this passion requires trial and error.
- Remember to prioritize and invest in your own health above anyone else.
- Invest your energy in people who are receptive and willing to take part in their own process — as much as you care about a client, you can’t lift the weight for them; they have to do the work!
EHC: Your experience is quite unique in that you combined lots of different types of positions, both part- and full-time, to get to where you are today. Is there anything you wish you knew when you first began your health care career journey?
AS: Any time you are doing independent contractor work, put 20-25% of your income straight into a separate bank account and make quarterly estimated tax payments — it makes tax time a lot less painful.
EHC: How do you stay up to date on happenings in your field? Are there any specific blogs that you follow, professional associations that you suggest students join or magazines to which you subscribe?
AS: I am fortunate to work for a company that prioritizes and provides funding toward continuing education! My PT & GFI certs are through American Council on Exercise, which is an amazing source of cutting edge research and resources. I also keep an eye on IDEA and PT on the Net. I read health and nutrition related books regularly and maintain or advance my certifications (as appropriate) when the opportunity presents itself as well.