By Charlie Kojis
It’s all about prevention. At least, that’s the trend in healthcare. With the rise of employee wellness programs, one area that has seen exciting growth is preventive medicine. To help keep healthcare costs down—for employers and employees alike—more and more companies are creating workplace wellness programs designed to promote healthy lifestyles and increase awareness of health risk factors such as obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
But employers need qualified professionals to create and lead these programs. That’s where the University of Wisconsin Health and Wellness Management (HWM) program comes in. This online degree completion program has its finger on the pulse of health and wellness and is leading the pack in preparing graduates to step into this growing field.
“There’s a fiscal incentive as well as a personnel incentive that if you have people that are healthier and at work more, the productivity will be better,” says Jon Morgan, the physical activity coordinator at the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. “In the past, it’s only been those that either had enough money to institute a program or really felt it was the right thing to do for their employees. Now, I think it’s becoming more standard. Most now recognize the benefit and as a result they have varying degrees of employee wellness programs.”
Morgan, who has more than 20 years of experience working in public health, has served at the Wisconsin Department of Health since 2004. He also sits on the advisory board of the UW HWM program. Over the course of his career, he’s seen a shift related to the rise in preventive care. Specifically, an increasing number of larger providers have begun to adopt employee wellness programs. Morgan estimates that 20 years ago, less than ten percent of companies nationally had some sort of wellness program in place. Today, more than half have a program in place, and the numbers are rising.
As demand for workplace wellness programs grows, the HWM program is working to provide students the expertise they need to pursue careers in positions such as wellness manager; wellness program manager; worksite wellness coordinator or director of sports, fitness and wellness; and more.
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“There is a push for prevention and I think people are catching onto that,” said Morgan. “Larger corporations are getting to the point where they see a potential cost savings by having in-house clinics. The thought is companies can better control costs by having these internal infrastructures in place. This is a far cry from what you would have seen 20 years ago where everybody would have been on the open market.”
What employers are looking for in an employee has changed with these evolving practices. Specifically, graduates knowledgeable in the various facets of preventive care, and how to positively impact a company’s workforce and its bottom line. Morgan says health and wellness workers need to understand how to engage a company’s employee base, navigate healthcare systems to ensure workers have healthcare providers, and provide health insurance programs that work with prevention. These are just some of the tasks the UW HWM curriculum focuses on to prepare students for success.
“[HWM is] trying to fill a niche that most people didn’t see coming five years ago or ten years ago,” said Morgan. “There’s probably a greater market now for people who are trained and able to provide employee wellness programming.”