ASHEBORO — When most people hear the word “coach,” they picture a guy standing on the sidelines at a football game calling out plays. Students who have completed Randolph Community College’s Health & Wellness Coach program know that their version of coaching is quite the opposite — health coaches do more listening than directing and in that way, the client is in charge. That is what leads to changing lives.
Upon the May graduation of 14 students, the National Board for Health & Wellness Coaching (NBHWC) approved RCC’s Health & Wellness Coach program for the education and training of health and wellness coaches. This approval allows its graduates to be eligible to sit for the HWC Certifying Examination. RCC now joins Duke Integrative Medicine as the only two NBHWC-approved programs in North Carolina, as well as the second community college nationally to have an approved program.
Beth Knott completed the program in 2019 and it changed her life both personally and professionally. A pediatric audiologist by trade, Knott spent several years as a fitness instructor at the Randolph-Asheboro YMCA. After seeing an article in the newspaper about the first class, she said her interest was piqued. She was hooked after two classes.
“Never in a million years would I have thought that it would have been a lifestyle change for me, but it really has impacted me,” Knott said.
Randolph County Wellness Administrator Sam Varner was key in getting RCC’s program off and running after speaking with RCC President Dr. Robert S. Shackleford Jr., RCC Vice President of Workforce Development & Continuing Education Elbert Lassiter and County Manager Hal Johnson in 2016. The program was funded by an $8,900 grant from the Randolph County Board of Commissioners that covered student scholarships, instructor costs, books and materials and course development. With help from Duke, a trial program was launched in 2018 along with the approval process.
“I wanted it to be affordable,” said Varner, noting the cost of registration at Duke is $4,440, while RCC’s is $180. “To me, [RCC’s] not just a regular community college. They’re ahead of the curve. RCC is really a state-of-the-art school. I thought this would be a way to put Randolph County on the map, and it’s great for economic development. So it all tied in.
“We also created a wellness coalition and I put an ad out for our 40 businesses: ‘Would you like free health coaching?’ Well, that’s a no-brainer. You get a free health coach for your at-risk employees, and so it’s a feeder system. It works for everybody.”
RCC’s course teaches skills such as motivational interviewing, active listening, dynamic goal setting and visioning to facilitate behavior change. Coaches are taught to put down the laptop, put aside the pen and notepad and really listen. The result is more than an exercise routine or a diet plan.
“Part of what makes it integrative is that we really are encompassed by many other things than just eating better, losing weight, moving our bodies,” Knott said. “Yes, that can be a big part of what’s going to lead to that healthier lifestyle, but when you are involved with health coaching, you really are taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture. What does your environment look like? What does your sleep look like? How well are you managing some of the stresses in your life? … You really are working to develop a pathway that is individual to that person’s needs. We all have a picture of best health, but that picture is very, very different from person to person. It’s very individualized and is driven by the client. I’m not there to tell them what they’re going to do or how they’re going to change. You’re there to be their partner.
“At the end of the day it’s not necessarily, ‘I want to fit in my skinny jeans,’ but ‘Where do you want to be in 10 years? What does healthy even mean to you?’ … It’s very rewarding. If we change one person’s life, it’s worth it.”
The Health & Wellness Coach program also uses the Wheel of Health, which puts the client at the center, surrounded by the many factors in life such as nutrition and spirituality that, after taking an assessment, the client can see what needs work and what doesn’t.
“The analogy I use is there is a quote by John Muir that says, ‘Everything in life is connected’” Knott said. “So that’s how I’d describe it: If we look at this circle and see how it is all connected. He says, ‘When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.’ What I do is just take that circle and say, ‘OK. Which area seems to be where the string’s really getting pulled?’ Once we can bring that string back into balance, then we see that circle becomes a little bit more of a circle again.”
Varner, whose background is coaching athletes for the college gridiron and the Olympic slopes, said it was difficult for him to rewire his brain to become a health coach.
“I would coach my athletes how to get in shape, but when I’m doing that, then they’re dependent on me,” he said. “In health coaching, you’re not depending on the coach. You’re depending on yourself. You’re relying on your inner self. And that’s what makes this fascinating.
“It was really hard for me when I started because I had a degree in nutrition, so I want to tell them how to eat, but I have to reframe that because the minute I start telling them that skews, subconsciously, that balance of the relationship. Then they come expecting me to give them some tidbits of information. If someone comes to me asking, ‘What’s the best diet for such and such?’ Normally, I would give them a diet or go tell them where to look. Now, I say, ‘Well, what do you think is the best? Why don’t you come up with something and let’s go over it together.’”
With the help of RCC’s Small Business Center, Knott has started her own business, Beth Knott Health Coaching, and is coaching full-time. The course has not only impacted her professionally, but also personally.
“Learning these skills can make you a better mother,” said Knott, who has two children. “Just understanding presencing and listening and just being there can make you a better listener with your husband. It’s just really helped reiterate what’s important in life.”
Once completed, RCC Health & Wellness Coach program graduates can become board-certified by taking the exam, which is administered by the American Medical Association.
As health coaching expands into the medical arena — e.g., there is now a CPT code for health coaching — both Knott and Varner hope it can touch younger generations in school.
“If we can get in and teach these kids, just give them empowerment, ‘I am in control,’” Knott said. “We’re so quick to say, ‘Oh, well, my mom had diabetes. This is my future.’ And it’s not. If we can get in and create that mindset and really empower these kids and young adults those skills of, ‘I got this. I may have to work a little harder because of my genes, but genes are only determining a very small percentage of where I’m actually going to be.’”
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Overall employment of health educators and community health workers is projected to grow 11 percent from 2018 to 2028, much faster than the average for all occupations. Growth will be driven by efforts to improve health outcomes and to reduce health care costs by teaching people healthy behaviors and explaining how to use available health care services. Governments, health care providers, social services providers want to find ways to improve the quality of care and health outcomes while reducing costs. This should increase demand for health educators and community health workers because they teach people how to live healthy lives and how to avoid costly diseases and medical procedures.”
Several studies have shown that health coaching is effective in improving various aspects of health, including cholesterol, weight, tobacco use and anxiety.
RCC’s 119-hour hybrid class is Wednesdays, Sept. 2-May 12, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. in the JB & Claire Davis Corporate Training Center, located inside the Continuing Education & Industrial Center on the Asheboro campus. The cost is $180, and three books are required: “How To Be A Health Coach” by Meg Jordan, “Motivational Interviewing” by William R. Miller and Stephen Rollnick and “Coaching Psychology Manual” by Margaret Moore, Ericka Jackson and Bob Tschannen-Moran.
To see the requirements to become a National Board Certified Health & Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC), visit nbhwc.org/become-an-nbc-hwc/.
For information, call 336-633-0268.