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Health Education Specialists

Scientific data can sometimes be overwhelming, especially if you don′t understand it. Here at CDC, there are special people who translate CDC/ATSDR′s research results into easy-to-comprehend forms for populations at risk.

Throughout the agency, there are about 150 full-time Health Education Specialists and Public Health Educators dedicated to promoting healthy behaviors necessary to reduce and prevent disease, injury, and disability. Their specific responsibilities include assessing individual and community needs for health education; planning, implementing, and evaluating effective health education programs; coordinating the provision of health education services; acting as a health education resource; and communicating health education needs, concerns, and resources.

Health Education Specialists in Action

Wanda Walton, PhD, Med, is one such individual. Walton oversees the 14-person branch that undertakes health communications, education activities, and behavioral studies for the Division of Tuberculosis Elimination, NCHSTP. From the time she served as DeKalb County′s first AIDS educator until now, health education has been her specialty.

"As health education specialists, we take very complex, difficult-to-understand language and make it understandable and appealing to our target audience," Walton said. "It is always challenging because you are working with people in various settings."

Walton has planned and implemented health education programs nationally and internationally. Last year, she was assigned to an international task force to work with TB program directors in Africa, Asia, and India.

"Individuals from CDC, WHO, the American Thoracic Society, the International Union Against TB and Lung Disease, and KNCV . . . work[ed] with 10 different countries in Africa, seven countries in Asia, and eight states in India," Walton said.

The task force conducted regional human resource development workshops for both training directors and TB program managers from the targeted countries, and developed training curricula and materials to encourage wide-spread implementation of the DOTS strategy, an internationally recommended approach to TB control.

Walton said the group wanted "to ensure that programs have health care workers who can control the spread of TB in these high-burden areas and provide the life-saving treatment for those with TB."

Nationally, Walton responded to a community-wide outbreak of TB in Ft. Wayne, Indiana.

When the health department needed assistance training volunteers who were going to handle the increased testing volume at TB clinics, Walton was deployed to develop a curriculum and train the new staff. During her time in Ft. Wayne, many of the city′s firefighters, who were tested for TB, did not understand their results. It became apparent to Walton that there was a definite need to hold training sessions for them.

"It is very difficult for people to understand the difference between latent TB infection"where a person has been infected with the TB germs, is not sick or infectious to others, but without treatment could become sick and infectious"and active TB disease," Walton said.

To help the firefighters′ understand these differences, Walton changed her airline reservations, pulled together a PowerPoint presentation in two hours, and began scheduling mandatory training sessions. In three days, Walton held 12 sessions and trained over 300 people.

To show their appreciation, the firefighters invited Walton to the station house for a tour, dinner and a ride in a cherry-picker bucket.

Walton has also been appreciated by others. Her award-winning work has been honored by the International Health & Medical Media Awards, the International Society for Performance Improvement, and PHEP-Net′s Horizon Award.

Many of CDC/ATSDR′s health educators are certified as professional health education specialists (CHES) by the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing (NCHEC). NCHEC defines health educators as "professionals who design, conduct and evaluate activities that help improve the health of all people."

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