Some people might picture community health workers as busy little worker bees buzzing around with surveys, checklists, and clipboards. There’s an element of truth to that image: They’re indeed active as they educate clients and patients about health care issues and connect them with appropriate services and resources.
But CHWs aren’t just names on some roster – they have individual, unique backgrounds and experience that qualify them to perform this increasingly important role in the nation’s health care system.
Let’s meet one of them. Tasha Whitaker has followed an unusual path, from reading Dr. Seuss books to pre-kindergartners to seeing that Medicare patients receive the right pre-diabetes screenings, among other tasks. Whitaker is a Community Health Worker II at Baylor Scott & White Health, in Dallas, Texas, and a strong proponent of health education.
Q. What exactly are your duties?
A. We work as a multidisciplinary team – a physician, medical assistant, CHW, pharmacist, and licensed clinical social worker. We are assigned a load of patients over 50. We assess their charts and provide health education and resources to the patient that are needed. These referrals come through the providers and other staff, and we follow up with the patient to make sure that their wellness visits, A1C test [for diabetes], medication list, depression screening and other metrics are all completed. If not, we make sure to get those patients in for an appointment.
Q. How did you arrive at your current position?
A. I went to school to become an RN. It wasn’t until I got to my health-ed classes that I figured that I loved the education part. So I graduated with degree in health education studies. The next best thing to me is teaching. A bunch of people in my family are in teaching. I went through certification programs, got an education, did some pre-K, then started in another job, working for a podiatrist. I got laid off and went back to substitute teaching. Then I got a job here. My journey wasn’t really “on purpose”; it just happened. My title when I was hired was community health educator. Once I started working, my employer gave me the opportunity to get certified as a community health worker. After working in one position for 4 ½ years, I was promoted and moved into a new role as a Community Health Worker II. Eventually, I want to go back and get my RN license and continue with health education and chronic-disease management.
Q. What makes you feel passionate about the work you do?
A. I love educating people about health and chronic diseases. I enjoy being able to break down complicated and complex information to people who may be struggling with turning their health around. It’s rewarding to see patients change their behavior and see many of them push through barriers to reach their goal.
Q. What’s unique about the needs of the people you serve?
A. Because they are seniors, some have barriers involving sight, reading, and instruction comprehension.
Q. Describe a time when the work you did truly made a difference for someone.
A. There was a patient I worked with in a pre-diabetes management class, and she was a bus driver. She was in the program to try and reduce her risk for getting diabetes. It was difficult because the goal was to lose 7 percent of her body weight through healthy eating and exercise. She came very close. She eventually lost weight and changed the snacks and drinks she would consume as she drove the bus. That, in turn, allowed others to see her progress and get them to be interested in the program. It was a really good feeling to know that our time in class was making a difference.