Keeping up with the demands and rapidly changing needs of worksite health and wellness programs is a job in itself. That’s where the online University of Wisconsin Health and Wellness Management program comes in—preparing students to become successful, forward-thinking, and innovative in an array of roles that go far beyond the traditional practitioner.
“This program is industry-informed. We know there is a need for people with backgrounds within the industry [areas such as insurance professionals, nurses, fitness coaches, health educators and promoters, and human resources’ administrators],” says George Kroeninger, Chief Academic Officer at UW Extended Campus and the UW System. Kroeninger, who earned his Master of Public Health, served as executive director of Be Active Minnesota and director of Medical and Community Education for the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation.
Kroeninger says the health and wellness industry is facing the interesting challenge of a gap in the level of expertise professionals need to perform effectively and efficiently at the management level, and the skills they currently have. A shift in industry demands has taken the educational focus from training worksite wellness practitioners and coordinators, to training students to take on manager positions, such as wellness managers, wellness program managers, worksite wellness coordinators and directors of sports, fitness, and wellness.
“I was trained as a worksite wellness practitioner 30 years ago, and all we had were practitioners,” Kroeninger says. “We didn’t have people who were trained on the management side because worksite wellness hadn’t risen in profile to that management level yet.”
The online UW Health and Wellness Management program provides students the opportunity to train effectively for health and wellness management positions and perform well in those roles once they are in place. Kroeninger says it’s important to understand that the program is not designed to train students as practitioners, but rather, hone their skills to take on the wide variety of opportunities and responsibilities that come with wellness managerial roles.
“They [graduates] could find themselves working in a lead wellness management role within a company or for one of a number of external worksite wellness service providers such as hospitals, health systems, managed care providers, insurance companies, benefits consulting firms or other vendors,” Kroeninger says. “There are also some nonprofits that are providing worksite wellness support programs, like the YMCA and other similar providers.”
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One of the most important keys to the program’s success, Kroeninger notes, is its connection to and communication with industry professionals to find out what skills they are looking for in new employees. These skills include not only critical thinking, keen problem-solving abilities, excellent communication, and an understanding of technology—but a deeper understanding of business.
“As employers get further into telling us what they’re looking for, they’re very clear that they need someone who has a business mind and perspective, who understands what business they’re in and what influences that business,” Kroeninger says.
Kroeninger says one of the greatest benefits of the HWM program is the opportunity students have to use the program to expand their careers into solid, in-demand positions of leadership in the health and wellness management field.
“If they’re looking to lead a worksite wellness program and or provide significant support to assist a company,” Kroeninger says, “this is the program for them.”