Community Health Workers (CHWs) are frontline health care professionals called by a variety of names including, but not limited to Health Auxiliaries, Health Agents, Health Promoters, Outreach Workers, Lay Health Advisors, Patient Navigators, and Community Health Aides. These individuals are enormously effective at building bridges between underserved communities and the health services they need. Some CHWs have titles that include their specific expertise, such as Diabetes Educator, Asthma Outreach Specialist, or HIV/STI Group Facilitator. Community Health Representatives are CHWs, employed widely by Tribal health organizations throughout American Indian communities in the U.S.
CHWs are frontline public health professionals who are trusted members of the communities they serve. Often sharing the same ethnicity, culture, language, and life experiences with community members, CHWs are in a unique position to bridge gaps between underserved populations and health or social systems. CHWs help individuals navigate complicated and unfamiliar health care systems. CHWs also help build individual and community capacity by increasing health knowledge and self-sufficiency through activities such as outreach, community organizing, informal counseling, social support, translation/interpretation and advocacy. For example, community health workers provide outreach, education, referral, case management, advocacy and home visiting services to women who are at highest risk for poor birth outcomes, particularly low-birth weight and infant mortality.
According to a national HRSA survey, there are three main trends in CHW workforce development: (1) certificates or degrees at the community college level (such as those offered at a number of California Community Colleges), which provide career advancement opportunities; (2) on-the-job training, to improve standards of care, CHW income, and retention; and (3) certification at the state level, which recognizes the work of CHWs and facilitates Medicaid reimbursement for CHW services. However, California does not currently certify CHWs.
Educational Programs / Qualifications:
CHWs are usually employed by departments of public health, clinics, or community based organizations. At the San Francisco Department of Public Health, CHWs can make between $38,000 and $57,000 depending on their level of experience. Many health departments offer advancement opportunities through civil service categories (e.g, Health Worker I, Health Worker II, Health Worker III). CHWs who work at community based organizations can expect to make somewhat less in salary, and their job titles may vary. Some CHWs pursue additional training for career flexibility (such as substance abuse or nutritional counseling certification); and some continue on to university programs in public health, social work, or other health career.
College certificate or degree is desirable.
Links to Additional Career Information:
Community Health Workers National Network Association
National Association of Community Health Representatives
Center for Sustainable Health Outreach ? sponsor of annual Unity Conference for CHWs
Community Health Workers National Workforce Study
Bureau of Labor Statistics
Health Care Careers - EDD Labor Market Division
Models for Developing Career Ladders - EDD Labor Market Division