Coaching patients to better health


“How do I know when I’m supposed to get screening tests?” “What do these labs mean and why did my nurse practitioner change my medication?” “What am I supposed to eat to lose weight?” These are just some of the many questions nurses routinely answer for our patients.

With half of our nation’s population living with at least one chronic health disease such as diabetes, obesity, or cardiovascular disease, patients need help in preventing and managing these diseases, especially as treatments and technologies become increasingly complex. Patients also need to understand the rules and regulations related to health insurance that can be confusing to non-health professionals.

The role of nurse health coach has emerged as one solution for assisting patients who are confused and frustrated with healthcare. In her article “Nurse coach: Health resource for this millennium,” Susan Schenk writes, “The nurse coach role can be defined as an expanded professional interaction based on mutual respect of the knowledge and skills that both nurse and client bring to the situation.”

Several organizations have weighed in on the need for nurse health coaches, including Independence Blue Cross, Samueli Institute, University of Minnesota’s Center for Spirituality and Healing, International Council of Nurses, Sigma Theta Tau International, New York State Nurse Practice Act, Duke University, California Institute for Integral Studies, the National Nurses Health Institute, and the National Holistic Nurses Association.

So what do nurse health coaches do?

Role of nurse health coach

Health education is a primary role for the registered nurse, but the nurse health coach uses the coaching model to expand on teaching disease prevention and health promotion strategies. He or she also coaches patients through an illness to encourage a transition from dependence to independence when possible.

Coaching is a natural fit for health promotion. As Mary Jo Kreitzer, founder and director of the Center for Spirituality and Healing at the University of Minnesota, explains, “The concept of coaching is very consistent with the idea of encouraging and empowering individuals to take charge of their health.”

Nurse health coaches focus on chronic disease prevention through lifestyle and integrative healthcare techniques. They conduct client visits, use motivational interviewing techniques, and model correct strategies necessary to help patients reach self-management goals. Nurse coaches also complete follow-up visits, track progress toward health goals, and serve as a resource or consultant for clients. Another important role is to act as the patient’s liaison with the primary care provider and other health professionals.

Becoming a nurse health coach

Nurse health coaches can work for insurance companies, hospitals, clinics, and as private consultants in homes, clinics, fitness clubs, and business settings. Areas of expertise include chronic disease management and prevention, cardiac disease, congestive heart failure, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, diabetes mellitus, chronic obstructive lung diseases, kinesiology, exercise, nutrition, and behavior change theories as well as treatments and medications related to each topic. Although nurse coaching is not a new practice, as it had been promoted by nurse theorist Betty Neuman, nurses need to expand their visibility as our nation’s healthcare focus moves towards the emerging wellness model.

If you want to become a nurse health coach, consider becoming certified through the National Institute of Whole Health for this rewarding role.

Selected references

Luck S. Changing the health of our nation—the role of nurse coaches. Altern Ther Health Med. 2019;16(5):68-70.

Schenk S. Nurse coach: Healthcare resource for this millennium. Nurs Forum. 2002;37(3):14-20.

Tracey Long is the director of clinical education at DaVita HealthCare Partners.


  • Thank you for listing some of the many places that nurse health coaches are utilizing their skills

  • It’s good to know that health coaches follow up and track the progress of clients instead of just giving a lesson and leaving. My wife recently recovered from an illness that hit her really hard for a long time and we’re working on improving our health together. Maybe finding a health coach could help us avoid getting hit as hard by sickness in the future, too.

  • Thank you for pointing out that health education is a primary role of a registered nurse. This seems like it could be very beneficially to patients and other nurses. Hopefully, nurses look into getting the best training and coaching possible.

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