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You may have heard the term “health coaching” in conversations about student health and well-being services. But what does health coaching for college students actually mean? Over 20 years ago, health coaching was identified as a way to help individuals achieve health and well-being-related goals. Now, the concept of health coaching is expanding and is implemented in a variety of settings. From primary care to chronic disease education, to wellness programs on college campuses, health coaching is a way to support individuals and groups who have an identified health and well-being need.
What is health coaching?
Let’s start by defining what is meant by health coaching and health coaches.
The AMA defines health coaching as:
“… a patient-centered approach where patients determine their goals, use self-discovery or active learning processes together with content education to work toward their goals, and self-monitor behaviors to increase accountability, all within the context of an interpersonal relationship with a coach.”
A health coach is:
“…qualified to perform health and well-being coaching by education, training, national examination, and, when applicable, licensure/regulation, and has completed a training program in health and well-being coaching whose content meets standards established by an applicable national credentialing organization. The training includes behavioral change theory, motivational strategies, communication techniques, health education and promotion theories, which are used to assist patients to develop intrinsic motivation and obtain skills to create sustainable change for improved health and well-being.”
Although there is currently no state licensure for health coaches, the National Board for Health and Wellness Coaching (NBHWC) and National Commission for Health Education Credentialing (NCHEC) certify individuals who are eligible and pass an exam based on their independent national standards.
What sets health coaching apart from other health and behavioral health providers are the behavioral change, health education and promotion theories, motivational strategies, and communication techniques implemented by the health coach to ensure that the patient and coach collaborate on discovering the motivations, identifying the goals and establishing the strategies that are most likely to be sustainable and effective for each patient’s needs and desires.
How health coaching sessions can help a patient
Health coaches typically assist with setting personalized goals and identifying patient-specific strategies on a broad set of health topics including:
- Tobacco cessation
- Healthy eating habits
- Exercise strategies
- Weight management
- Sleep improvement
- Stress management
Regardless of the setting or topics, health coaches partner with patients to support their motivations to develop sustainable behavior change based on their unique needs, leading to an improved quality of life.
The impact of health coaching on patient outcomes
Research provides evidence of the positive impact health coaching has on motivating health and lifestyle changes. Health coaching is proven to be effective in helping manage chronic disease and improve short- and long-term physiological, psychological, and behavioral health outcomes. In addition, there is strong evidence that health coaching is a cost-savings approach that reduces healthcare utilization by helping patients live healthier lives. A number of barriers exist for patients to overcome in order to manage their health and well-being. Often, patients with chronic illnesses or health concerns who require education and lifestyle changes need a higher level of care, time, and resources, which can be challenging to manage in traditional health care settings.
Incorporating health coaches into a healthcare team and patients’ healthcare strategy can help reduce barriers and enhance the amount of one-on-one time and individualized guidance/education a patient receives. Patients also benefit from an approach that engages them in the process of identifying intrinsic and extrinsic motivators, meaningful goals, and strategy development. Including health coaches on a patient’s care team enhances continuity of care and enables all providers involved in their care to understand, monitor, and reinforce the motivations and goals set by the patient.
Support students' health care needs
What does health coaching look like for college students?
Health coaching on college and university campuses is gaining momentum as an approach to support students as they navigate college stressors. American College Health Association (ACHA) cites anxiety, depression, and stress as impediments to health and academic success. These are all issues that have intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic for college students, and the mental health crisis on higher education campuses is an ongoing challenge for college employees and administrators to address.
According to ACHA, a variety of institutions – from small to large and public to private – are successfully implementing health coaching support for students. To make sure the students understand the service, institutions identify how health coaching is different from existing services and establish health coaching as a complementary and integrated service that enhances continuity of care and a holistic approach to support for students.
ACHA recommends the following approaches to developing a health coaching program:
Assess student health and well-being needs
Take into account student interest as it informs the planning process. Conducting a campus-wide needs assessment or analyzing existing data on student health and well-being will help identify areas of opportunity to address with health coaching. A baseline needs assessment will also help track trends and changes in behavior before and after implementing health coaching.
Create a plan
Determine the scope of the health coaching program
Create a marketing and communications plan
Identify short- and long-term health coaching program goals
Health coaching delivered by virtual health care
Higher education institutions that partner with TimelyMD are able to provide health coaching to their students. This virtual service provides access to board-certified health coaches who work with the TimelyMD care team to support patients in meeting their health and well-being goals.
TimelyMD’s health coaches provide student-centric health coaching services on relevant topics, including stress management, time management, healthy eating habits, healthy relationships, substance use/misuse, movement/physical activity, and sleep improvement. As a complement to existing campus health services, (such as medical and counseling centers,) TimelyMD’s virtual health and well-being platform provides medical and mental health support, along with health coaching, psychiatry, and care coordination support. Contact TimelyMD to learn more about health coaching services for your campus.
Health coaching outcomes for college student well-being
Just as there is much evidence that health coaching improves health and well-being outcomes in the general population, research shows that health coaching with college students also has a positive effect. West Chester University in Pennsylvania cites potential benefits of health coaching as “increases in self-awareness, acquisition of new knowledge and skills, attainment of personal and professional goals, sustainable behavior change, increased life satisfaction, and becoming one’s best self.”
Another study found that health coaching had a positive impact on students’ perceived stress and self-reported wellness status. Interestingly, findings on the effectiveness of health coaching with college students uncovered benefits that go beyond traditional health and well-being outcomes. Similarly, a study conducted at St. Cloud State University found that students who participated in Peer Wellness Coaching (PWC) experienced an increased sense of belonging.
There is a strong correlation between students’ sense of belonging and student retention. When a student feels like they belong it enhances not only a student’s affinity for the institution but the likelihood they remain enrolled. Integrated into other student support services, health coaching is an effective strategy to engage and support student health, well-being and success. As institutions strive to maintain enrollment, support students’ transition to college life, keep students on track to graduate, and give students the skills needed to start their careers, health coaching is an effective strategy for student support.
Get in touch with TimelyMD to learn more about adding health coaching and additional self-care support to your campus resources.