Your most common questions answered about Functional Medicine and health coaching, certification requirements, credentials, income, careers, and more. Explore the questions below or jump to the area you’d like to learn more.

Health Coaching Basics

What is a health & wellness coach?

Health and wellness coaches are part wellness authority, part supportive mentor, and part behavior change specialist. They partner with clients who are seeking to enhance their well-being through self-directed, lasting changes in alignment with their values. Health coaches often work with clients to implement individualized food and lifestyle changes that meet the client’s unique needs and health goals. In the course of their work, health and wellness coaches display unconditional positive regard for their clients and a belief in clients’ capacity for change. They honor that each client is an expert on their own life, ensuring that all interactions are respectful and non-judgmental.

Health Coaches provide their services in a few ways. They may provide one-on-one or group sessions offered through their own private coaching business or in collaboration with doctors and other wellness providers. Their role includes but is not limited to:

  • Providing a positive relationship that empowers the client to make lasting changes for better health and well-being
  • Offering clients support, accountability, collaboration, education, and resources
  • Translating a practitioner’s plan of care into a plan of action
  • Assisting with dietary changes, food plans, and physical activity protocols
  • To learn more about FMCA’s Functional Medicine Health Coach Certification Program, download our Info Packet.

Do I need a medical background to become a health coach?

While prior training in another healthcare discipline can be helpful, you do not need a background in healthcare in order to become a health coach. Successful health coaches come from a wide range of backgrounds, including business, marketing, life coaching, nursing, nutrition, yoga and fitness, massage therapy, art, design, education, and caregiving.

Do I need a college degree to become a health coach?

A college degree is not necessary to become a health coach. The only requirements are an interest in the connection between food, behavior, and health, and the passion to help clients grow, feel supported, and make lasting lifestyle changes.

What’s the difference between a health coach and a nutritionist or dietitian?

Nutritionists and dietitians receive different training than health coaches do, and thus they are qualified to provide different services. Unlike health coaches, they evaluate the health of their clients and create food plans based on their findings. Nutritionists and dietitians first earn a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university, followed by an internship or practice program, after which they may sit for a national examination and practice as an R.D., or Registered Dietitian. They are experts in food and diet and are considered healthcare practitioners.

A nutritionist or dietitian may choose to add a health coaching certification to their credentialing to strengthen their behavior change skills, build competency in new approaches to health, and add value to their practice. Additionally, health coaches may work alongside nutritionists or dietitians to help motivate clients and guide them through dietary changes using positive psychology and coaching tools and techniques.

What’s the difference between a health coach and a therapist?

A therapist is a licensed mental health professional who helps clients improve their lives, develop better cognitive and emotional skills, reduce symptoms of mental illness, and cope with various challenges.

A therapist may choose to add a health coaching certification to their credentialing to strengthen their behavior change skills, build competency in new approaches to health, and add value to their practice. Additionally, health coaches may work alongside therapists to assist clients in implementing protocols or recommendations that impact emotions, thoughts, and beliefs using positive psychology techniques. Health coaches also use mind-body techniques and tools like abdominal breathing, guided imagery, and meditation to help clients manage stress and generate healing.

What is positive psychology?

Positive psychology is the scientific study of the strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive. The field is founded on the belief that people want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, to cultivate what is best within themselves, and to enhance their experiences of love, work, and play.

Why is positive psychology important in health coaching?

Using positive psychology coaching techniques can help clients achieve their goals, build resiliency, manage mood, tap into Character Strengths , and strengthen internal motivation to support behavioral change.

We recommend checking out the Basics of Positive Psychology Specialty Course here if you’d like to learn more.

What will a health coaching certification allow me to do?

Your health coaching certification opens up many paths: you may start your own business and see individuals or groups in a private setting, and/or hold sessions virtually via video coaching. You may choose to work in a medical or corporate environment, such as a hospital, insurance company, physicians’ office, corporate offices, day spa, wellness center, or school. Or you may incorporate the skills you acquire into your existing healthcare or non-healthcare profession.

Many of our alumni establish their own coaching business or partner with practitioners, or a combination of both. Your options will depend on your background, interests, location, and what’s accessible to you online.

How do I choose the best Health Coach Certification Program? What criteria are important?

When choosing the best program for your goals and needs, consider these factors:

  • Is the program approved by the National Board for Health & Wellness Coaching (NBHWC)?
  • What is the curriculum composed of?
  • Who are the faculty members providing the training?
  • What support is offered after graduation?
  • Is the program approved for continuing education?
  • Does the community align with my values?
  • What career paths can I take when I’ve completed the program?

Here are our 10 Questions You Should Be Asking as you go through the process of choosing the best health coach training program.

What are the benefits of working with a health coach?

Health Coaches empower their clients to take charge of their health, meet and exceed their wellness goals, and create lasting change. Coaches provide accountability and a personalized approach, and they help the client tap into their motivation and overcome roadblocks in order to continue moving forward. Many health coaching clients report improved quality of life, physical health improvements, improved emotional well-being, and feeling less stressed.

What does a health coach certification from The Functional Medicine Coaching Academy (FMCA) mean?

Your health coach certification through FMCA signifies that you have the skills and knowledge required to partner with clients and collaborate with practitioners as a Functional Medicine Certified Health Coach (FMCHC). It means you have successfully completed an academically rigorous program in the principles of Functional Medicine and nutrition, positive psychology, mind-body medicine, and the art of coaching. FMCA graduates may also choose to sit for the National Board for Health & Wellness Coaching (NBHWC) examination in order to become a National Board-Certified Health & Wellness Coach. Your FMCA certification is a globally-recognized coaching credential.

Health Coaching Credentials & Scope of Practice

What is required to become a health coach?

In order to become a health coach, you must successfully complete a health coach training program or obtain a health coaching degree through a university.

What is required to become a certified health coach?

In order to become a certified health coach, you must successfully complete a Health and Wellness Coach Training & Education program that has been approved by the National Board for Health & Wellness Coaching (NBHWC).

What is the National Board for Health & Wellness Coaching (NBHWC)?

NBHWC’s mission is to lead the advancement of health & wellness coaching by establishing professional standards and collaborative partnerships. It was established in 2016 in partnership with the National Board of Medical Examiners to enhance the rigor and the advancement of health & wellness coaching. Learn more about the National Board for Health & Wellness Coaching here.

What is required to become a board-certified health coach?

In order to become a board-certified health coach, you must successfully complete an NBHWC-approved Health and Wellness Coach Training & Education Program, complete a specified number of coaching hours, and show documentation of an Associate’s degree or higher in any field. Once these standards are met, graduates may choose to pursue board certification through NBHWC’s Health & Wellness Coach (HWC) Certifying Exam. This credential, “National Board-Certified Health & Wellness Coach,” or NBC-HWC, is quickly becoming the indicator for coaches who meet the highest level of training standards.

Why is it important for a health coach certification program to be approved by NBHWC?

NBHWC’s national certification is accelerating the professionalization of this emerging field and enabling the growth of an evidence base, and reputable coach training and education programs have joined this endeavor. This national certification allows proficient coaches to stand apart from coaches who have not received adequate coach training or assessment of their coaching skills and knowledge. A health coaching program must meet and adhere to NBHWC’s Program Approval Standards in order to be approved, and NBHWC engages in a rigorous review process. Each approved program meets set standards, including how course content is delivered to students, how students’ practical coaching skills are developed and evaluated, and the qualifications of the program’s faculty members.

How long does a health coach’s board certification last?

NBHWC requires board-certified health coaches to recertify every 3 years in order to keep their certification valid. To recertify, coaches must complete 36 Continuing Education (CE) credits with an approved program. FMCA offers CEs through our Alumni Program and Specialty Courses.

Is The Functional Medicine Coaching Academy’s Health Coach Certification an approved program with NBHWC?

Yes. FMCA’s Health Coach Certification Program curriculum is developed in partnership with The Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM), approved by the National Board for Health & Wellness Coaching (NBHWC), and in keeping with the standards of excellence set forth by the Harvard Institute of Coaching.

What is a health coach’s scope of practice?

The scope of practice refers to the process of coaching and the rules and guardrails that coaches follow when providing any services related to coaching. Health Coaches do not diagnose, treat, prescribe, interpret medical results, write food plans, or recommend supplements. They are behavior change specialists who work with clients to provide personalized guidance and accountability in areas like nutrition, exercise, mindfulness. The scope of practice exists to protect both coaches and their clients.

Do I need to stay within the scope of practice of a health coach if I hold another healthcare accreditation (nursing, counseling, etc.)?

The answer depends upon how you’re using your health coach training. Many healthcare practitioners, including physicians, nutritionists, and mental health professionals, become health coaches so that they can use coaching principles in their already-established professional practices. In those instances, you would abide by the scope of practice as set forth by your chosen profession. On the other hand, a significant number of practitioners choose to “wear two hats” and may contract with clients as a health coach only. For these sessions, the coach—even though they may also hold another healthcare license—follows the coaching scope of practice.

Functional Medicine Health Coaching

What is Functional Medicine?

Functional Medicine is a systems biology-based approach that focuses on identifying and addressing the root cause of disease, with a goal of optimal wellness. Each symptom or differential diagnosis may be one of many contributing to an individual’s illness, and Functional Medicine looks beyond the symptoms to identify why illness occurs in the first place. This approach empowers patients, doctors, and health coaches to work together to resolve the complex underlying causes of disease to restore health through diet and lifestyle change.

What are the benefits of Functional Medicine?

The Functional Medicine model is an individualized, patient-centered, science-based approach that empowers patients and practitioners to work together to address the underlying causes of disease and promote optimal wellness. It requires a detailed understanding of each patient’s genetic, biochemical, and lifestyle factors and leverages that data to direct personalized treatment plans that lead to improved patient outcomes. By addressing root cause, rather than symptoms, practitioners become oriented to identifying the complexity of disease.

What is The Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM)?

The Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM) was founded in 1991 by Susan and Dr. Jeffrey Bland. Their vision combined clinical medicine with the emerging evidence and insights that would enable it to move from the drug-based model of fighting infectious diseases that worked so well in the twentieth century to a systems-oriented, patient-focused clinical model designed to reverse the growing chronic disease epidemic. Since then, IFM has set the gold standard for the education, training, and clinical practice of Functional Medicine globally.

What is The Functional Medicine Coaching Academy’s relationship with The Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM)?

The Functional Medicine Coaching Academy is proud to offer the only Health Coach Certification Program in collaboration with IFM. FMCA’s program shares many of the same faculty members and much of the same course curriculum as IFM’s training, so you’ll graduate able to “speak the language of Functional Medicine” and step right into the professional Functional Medicine community.

What are the advantages FMCA’s Health Coach Certification Program being designed in partnership with IFM?

IFM incubates and propagates new research, tools, pilot projects, and partnerships that respond to the evolving trends in primary care in order to advance the clinical care provided to patients. As IFM’s partner, FMCA is the first to receive cutting-edge information and education in these emerging approaches.

What is the difference between Functional Medicine and Integrative or Lifestyle Medicine?

They’re very similar concepts: all three approaches are evidence-based; take account of the whole person, including diet and lifestyle; and emphasize the therapeutic relationship between practitioner and patient. They are not meant to replace conventional healthcare, but rather to take a more holistic view that is inclusive of conventional healthcare as well as other approaches.

What is the difference between the conventional approach to healthcare and Functional Medicine?

Conventional medicine tends to treat symptoms and diseases using drugs and surgery as first-line interventions. A Functional Medicine approach is not exclusive of those treatment options, but it’s not where we start. Functional Medicine’s focus is instead on searching for the root cause of the issue and addressing it to resolve the symptoms it was causing. Often, these root causes resolve through diet and lifestyle changes.

What is Functional Medicine Health Coaching?

Functional Medicine Health Coaching uses Functional Medicine principles and positive psychology coaching techniques to:

  • Educate clients and help them understand their doctor’s plan of care
  • Offer tools and accountability when clients implement new lifestyle changes
  • Motivate clients using positive psychology techniques
  • Guide clients through dietary changes, food plans, and physical activity protocols
  • Lead clients through group coaching sessions on specific topics
  • Work directly with the client’s practitioner when appropriate
  • Celebrate successes and encourage progress

What is the difference between Functional Medicine Health Coaching and conventional health coaching?

Often used in primary care settings, conventional health coaching helps patients with chronic diseases and other complex health needs better understand their diseases and actively participate in their care. Conventional health coaches are typically trained medical assistants, nurses, or other clinic staff members.

Functional Medicine Health Coaches bridge the gap between what clients know they need to do to be healthy and the intrinsic motivation they need to actually make and sustain those changes. Functional Medicine Health Coaches combine their unique behavior change expertise with Functional Medicine principles to cultivate personal responsibility around lifestyle changes so clients can tap into their innate strengths and self-efficacy to discover their full potential—mind, body, and spirit.

Health Coach Employment

What are my employment options after completing a health coach certification program? Where are health coach jobs?

Your job options will depend on your background, interests, and what’s accessible to you locally and online. Common health coaching jobs include:

  • Private health coaching businesses
  • Traditional medical hospitals or clinics
  • Functional Medicine practices
  • Corporate wellness firms
  • Health insurance companies
  • Leading corporate wellness programs within larger organizations
  • Specialty healthcare companies
  • Care coordinators
  • Fitness industry (gyms, wellness centers, etc)
  • Schools
  • Weight loss centers
  • Writer/blogger/speaker/health advocate

Many health coaches are drawn to the field because of the flexibility and variety it offers for those who want to wear a few “hats.”

What is the demand for health coaches in the job market?

Health and wellness is a multi-billion-dollar-and-growing industry, and employment opportunities for health coaches continue to take off. Health education is expected to grow 14% by 2024, faster than the average for all other careers, according to healthcoachcertifications.com.

How can I find a good job as a health coach?

Online job boards and portals, networking within the Functional Medicine and broader healthcare community, marketing, and word of mouth are some of the most common ways that health coaches find jobs. FMCA has several tools that assist our graduates to gain a competitive edge in the job market, including the Find A Coach portal, Functional Medicine Job Board, and Business-Building Track. Our connection with IFM and the Functional Medicine community makes up a broad global network of hundreds of practitioners and organizations looking to hire our graduates.

How can I make money as a health coach?

Several factors impact your salary as a health coach. As with any industry, your years of experience, past education, other qualifications or credentials, and location play a role. Other factors specific to health coach training and knowledge also influence your rate. The average certified health coach income is estimated to be in the range of $50,000–$75,000, with the top 10% of Health Coaches earning $100K and above, according to the US Department of Labor.

How much does a health coach make per hour?

Several factors can influence your hourly rate, including those listed above. A 2018 Marketdata report found that health coaches earn around $25 to $100 per hour.

What types of businesses hire health coaches?

Some of the businesses that hire health coaches include medical centers and physicians’ offices, insurance companies, corporate offices, day spas, wellness centers, and schools. Many of our alumni establish their own coaching business or partner with practitioners, or sometimes both. Your options will depend on your background, interests, and what’s in your local area or accessible to you online.

As health coaching emerges as a $6 billion-and-growing service market, workplace wellness is one particularly promising growth area. According to the Huffington Post, 51% of all employers with a workforce of fifty or more created workplace wellness programs in 2013—good news if corporate wellness is a niche you’re drawn to.

Does The Functional Medicine Coaching Academy help with job placement after graduation?

Upon graduating from FMCA, you will have access to the Functional Medicine Job Board, where doctors specifically seeking FMCA alumni post their open positions. Additionally, you’ll create your own customizable profile in FMCA’s Find A Coach Directory, where clients and practitioners alike are searching for Functional Medicine Health Coaches. You may also choose to join the Alumni Program, where coaching and business mentorship, continuing education, thought leader webinars, networking, and more are available. FMCA does not place graduates in positions.

Should I add a health coaching certification to my current job in healthcare?

Whether you decide to work as a professional health coach or not, the tools and knowledge you obtain from your health coach training can be applied to many professions, healthcare and otherwise. The coach approach is valuable in virtually any role, especially for those in managerial or executive positions, and may also be particularly useful to those already working in the healthcare field.

Does traditional health insurance cover the costs of a health coach?

In 2019, the American Medical Association (AMA) created Category III Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) codes for health and well-being coaching that took effect as of January 1, 2020. CPT codes are used in the medical industry to report medical, surgical, and diagnostic procedures to entities like physicians, health insurance companies, and accreditation organizations. These codes are used in conjunction with diagnostic codes, and they’re required to get insurance reimbursement.

The AMA noted that only health professionals certified by NBHWC or the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing, Inc. (NCHEC) can use the new codes—essentially defining a health coach as someone who has been certified by the NBHWC or NCHEC.

While Category III CPT codes are not yet subject to health insurance reimbursement, they represent an important step in the right direction for the field of health coaching. In addition, they’re another reason why it’s well worth it to pursue board certification after completing your health coach training.

Do I need malpractice insurance to work as a health coach?

All businesses, regardless of industry, face risks that should be covered by insurance. As a health coach, malpractice insurance gives you the peace of mind of knowing you're protected in the event of a claim or suit or a grievance from a regulatory board, plus many other coverage benefits.

Didn't find the answer you were looking for? Get in touch with us.