Setting CHW Learning Goals

By Eliana Ifill

The career path that leads to being a community health worker (CHW) or promotor de salud is one full of growth opportunities, hands-on experience, and human interaction. As a CHW, you have the chance to improve your community members’ well-being every day and help them across the most challenging stumbling blocks in their lives.

But that’s not all there is to it.

Aspects like bureaucracy, unclear scopes of practice, and the complicated nature of health care–especially for marginalized communities–leave many CHWs feeling overloaded and like it’s hard too to set professional development and learning goals.

However, setting professional goals is the best way to build skills for the job you have and start to gain experience for advancing on a career path.

The first step in being a CHW is to complete core competencies training—this is often required from the state where you live. Then, build on to that solid base with specialized training that fits the needs of your community or what you want to do. Meet with your supervisor regularly, maybe every three months or twice a year, to discuss these options and get their support.

Continuous education and training will help you benefit your career and also help the people you work with. Read on for more ideas about setting your own learning goals.

5 Things To Keep in Mind When Setting Your CHW Learning Goals

  1. What areas in your community need the most support?
  2. What certificates or training does your state require for CHW programs?
  3. What are your professional goals?
  4. How are you going to measure your CHW learning goals?
  5. What support systems do you have in place?

 

1.     What areas in your community need the most support?

Community health workers and promotores de salud work closely with underserved communities, families with little to no access to basic health care. As a CHW, you have the opportunity to address the unique challenges your community is facing and help them overcome these barriers.

When setting your CHW learning goals, keep in mind:

  • medical conditions of clients
  • requirements of your employer
  • specific needs of those in your community.

This might include a chronic illness that’s a problem where you live, such as diabetes or heart disease. Or it might include more general skills such as advocacy, help navigating health insurance, transportation, or language services.

2.     What certificates or training does your state require for CHW programs?

While not all states have legislation in place for CHW programs, it’s important to check with your local authorities whether you need official certifications, hands-on experience (many programs require a number of supervised hours in the field), or any other requirement as you start your CHW career.

Not sure where to start? Find out what the CHW certification requirements in your state.

3.     What are your professional goals?

Whether you’re looking at a long-term career as a CHW or see this as a steppingstone, your professional goals should shape your choices from early on.

If you’re considering a career in public health, medicine, or social services, it’s smart to explore your local opportunities and connect with other professionals in positions similar to what you’re after. Look at some of the most important job skills to build a CHW career path.

4.     How are you going to measure your CHW learning goals?

Once you’ve more or less defined your aspirations as a CHW, it’s time to clearly outline your goals and create an action plan.

For goal setting, you can use a system like SMART goals, which stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-based (or time-bound).

An example of a SMART CHW learning goal is:

Contact my local authority to request the certification requirements before registration for the Core Competencies course closes for this quarter.

5.     What support systems do you have in place?

While working on the field can be extremely rewarding, you’ll likely face many challenges as a CHW, both in witnessing struggle firsthand and navigating bureaucracy and injustice day in and day out.

Developing healthy habits and a strong support system, along with clear boundaries, is key to protect your own well-being and those closest to you. Take this quiz to see if you might be burned out.

Autism: New Course Helps Underserved Families in Washington

The number of children who have been diagnosed with Autism has increased sharply in recent years—at least for some children.

White children in the U.S. are tested for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) as a part of regular care, which means they can be diagnosed earlier and go down a road for intervention and services that tremendously helps both them and their families reach their fullest potential.

Hispanic or Latino and Black children, on the other hand, are less likely to be diagnosed with ASD than white kids. Hispanic children are 65% less likely to be diagnosed, and Black children 19% less likely, according to a study in the American Journal of Public Health.

A new project from the Washington State Department of Health aims to reduce those disparities and add support to vulnerable families in the state with the help of community health workers (CHWs) through a course called Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder.

“This project is really exciting! It gives CHWs a better understanding of what Autism is and helps them build their network of resources to share with families going through diagnosis and afterwards, that will be fundamental in helping families in Washington State,” says Nikki Dyer, Family Engagement Coordinator in the office of Prevention and Community Health at the Washington State Department of Health.

Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder was built by online training agency Talance, Inc., and is offered for no cost as part of Washington’s Community Health Worker Training Program. More than 2000 people from around the state have participated in the 10-week online program, designed to strengthen the common skills, knowledge, and abilities of community health workers. Past participants are eligible to enroll in any of the free Continuing Education Health Specific Modules, including Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder “lets CHWs get a grasp of what kind of resources they have locally around diagnosis, referral, and how to navigate a family,” says Dyer. It also exposes CHWs to services for kids with Autism who have already been diagnosed through to Transitioning to adulthood services.

“Transition’s a huge issue that has been largely unexplored and leaves a big gap for autistic youth and their families when making that leap to adult services,” Dyer says.

 

Focus on Early Diagnosis

One of the main goals of the course is to encourage earlier and more equitable access to diagnosis, especially for families who face health disparities due to race, ethnicity, and cultural needs.

“Pre-diagnosis is a chaotic time in a family’s life,” says Dyer.

Families might:

  • Not be able to recognize the early signs.
  • Feel confused and isolated when their child is diagnosed with ASD and immediately after.
  • Suspect their child has Autism but wait to get a diagnosis or feel too overwhelmed by the reality of the diagnosis to know where to find services and supports.

Diagnosing ASD early can help families cope. Early interventions are also critically important to helping children with ASD develop social skills and improve their quality of life.

“Early diagnosis provides the best possibility to be proactive and provide the child with services to reach their fullest potential development,” says Dyer.

Health Disparities and ASD

Here’s where many Black and Hispanic or Latino families are left behind. If their children are never diagnosed, or diagnosed later in life, they miss out on these important support mechanisms and adjustments to help families and youth. Outreach campaigns to have all children screened for ASD can catch some of the people who fall through.

The number of white children diagnosed with ASD compared to Black and Hispanic children is much higher. Source: CDC.

Some communities have a cultural stigma or other expectations of childhood development. That can prevent early diagnosis and put a stop to families seeking a diagnosis even when their provider or child’s teacher may encourage it.

Working Across Washington

Dyer and her colleagues in the Children and Youth with Special Health Care Needs program knew of the challenges of supporting families in Washington.

“They turned their eyes toward CHWs and began investigating collaborative opportunities with the Department of Health’s CHW Training Program for developing training resources,” says Scott Carlson, Community Health Worker Training System Supervisor at the Washington State Department of Health.

CHWs work in the homes of families all around the state, and—importantly–in the most underserved areas. With the right kind of training, CHWs can make referrals to ASD specialists and provide other resources.

 

“Family navigators” are healthcare workers who regularly support families with an ASD diagnosis. But—like CHWs—they don’t have a clear definition. It’s a catch-all term for someone who provides families with extra care coordination. There are no training requirements or standard services provided by family navigators.

The upshot: CHWs can be family navigators. They can use the skills provided through the Washington CHW program and through this training to serve families in a culturally and linguistically competent and relevant way.

“We would like to promote the CHW program by creating this course and making it open to partners who are doing peer mentoring and navigation for people with special health care needs, even if they are not trained CHWs,” says Dyer.

Doing so opens up employment possibilities for participants who want to be CHWs but might not know about the number of available jobs labeled as “family navigation.”

“We would also like to promote the program as a whole and encourage our partners who may receive access to this module without being a CHW to take the initial training in those basic skills.”

CHW Family Navigation Skills

People who participate in Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder will gain skills that support families in many areas, including:

  • Understanding what ASD is and its stages of severity
  • Advocating for early testing and diagnosis through referring clients and providers
  • Care coordination for connecting families to needed services, supports, and therapies, even outside of the healthcare field, specifically through a customized resource directory

So far, learner feedback has been overwhelmingly positive for the course. In a survey, 92% found it interesting and easy to follow, and 95% were able to find ASD resources that were local and relevant to their jobs.

“This information will be applied immediately,” says Najja Brown, who recently completed the training. Brown works with ASD clients as part of her work through DSHS/DDA. “We will understand our clients better, be able to recommend resources/support groups, and make appropriate suggestions based on the information learned. We will also use the proper language when references to ASD.

“I know so much more than before. When I resume providing services, I will have a better understanding of my clients, whom are all ASD.”

Additional Training

Anyone interested in taking Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder can learn more at Washington’s Community Health Worker Training website.

Dyer suggests participating in these courses as a “Family Navigation track”:

  • Providing Social Support
  • Immunizations Across the Lifespan
  • Navigating Health Insurance
  • Health Advocacy
  • Social Determinants of Health & Disparities
  • Depression, Anxiety, & Stress

Wondering What a CHW Does? Start Here

Recently, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that employment of community health workers (CHWs) and other health educators is booming. It will grow 11% by 2028, a much higher rate than other occupations. Those numbers have almost certainly increased after the coronavirus, because many health systems need the unique skills of a CHW.

Learn what it takes to be a CHW: click here >

It’s a secure job choice if you’re considering a career as a CHW. If you’re a program manager or director looking for ways to increase the impact and response of your healthcare team, you should consider adding CHWs.

First, you should understand what exactly a CHW is. CHWs and other health promoters have a distinctive place in the community and unique relationships with patients and clients. Individuals and agencies should have an idea about how to work as or with a CHW. That’s why typical CHW core competencies training includes roles and boundaries of the job.

 

To help you understand this job better, we’re offering a free training called What Is a CHW? on September 22 at 9 a.m. Eastern.

This is the first step in our core competencies training program, and one that’s shared all across the US. The 1-hour online presentation shows how CHWs work within agencies and how to get started on your career.

In this free webinar, we cover topics to help you understand more about the job, such as:

  • How CHWs are members of a community
  • The responsibilities of CHWs
  • The most common places where CHWs work
  • The key skills CHWs should develop to succeed on the job

We have limited space for this webinar, so register today.

Roles and Responsibilities of a CHW Career [Free Event]

What does it take to have a team of community health workers (CHWs) working for your agency? Well, the answer to that question starts with understanding their roles and responsibilities.

Sign Up Now: What Is a CHW? [Free Webinar]

Some organizations already have a good sense of exactly a CHW does and how their jobs mesh with other staff. For others, it’s all new for supervisors, newly hired CHWs, and other members of a multidisciplinary healthcare team.

That’s why roles and responsibilities is one of the most essential core skills a CHW can learn. While what it takes to be a CHW varies from agency to agency and state to state, a baseline understanding of exactly what a CHW is common among everyone. Be sure to attend our free virtual core competency training event What Is a CHW?

Some states have certification programs, and some employees require stringent on-the-job training. Though ideas of what a CHW is might not be the same, there some standards that employers and organizations have in common.

CHW Core Competencies

1.      Roles and Responsibilities

Understanding what CHWs are supposed to do with training in roles and responsibilities and what their responsibilities are through a well-defined scope of practice is the first step in a solid CHW education. This helps the whole healthcare team work more smoothly and gives CHWs the best chance to enhance access to healthcare.

2.      Advocacy Skills/Capacity-Building Skills

CHWs should know how to empower clients and motivate them to manage their own health. Part of this is teaching others how to advocate for themselves and demonstrate ways to help people reach their goals. Supporting behavior change relies on identifying and overcoming barriers, understanding community cultures, and finding ways to reach members.

3.      Care Coordination or Service Coordination and System Navigation

Care or service coordination involves navigating systems and collaborating with partners to connect clients to resources. This practice helps service providers work together and also works to tell systems about the needs of the people who use them. It also includes helping to develop and implement care plans.

4.      Communication Skills

Listening skills, language skills, building rapport, are cornerstone skills for anyone working with clients, especially CHWs. Communication extends beyond spoken and written words to knowing how to use and interpret nonverbal communication. A strong base in communication means CHWs can resolve and avoid conflict with clients and also at work, and understand how to work working within culturally diverse communities.

5.      Cultural Humility/Cultural Responsiveness

CHWs serve as a bridge between different cultures. This means that they often translate—sometimes literally–healthy behaviors into culturally appropriate equivalents. They must understand and work to reduce health disparities and use cultural sensitivities for all diverse groups. Cultural inclusiveness lets CHWs behave respectfully and identify bias so it’s less of an influence in care.

6.      Education and Facilitation Skills

Using various ways to deliver health information clearly means that clients and patients are healthier and have better outcomes. Core education skills include knowing how to explain terms in plain language and promote healthy behavior change. They also find and use resources to develop self-efficacy skills.

7.      Evaluation and Research

Research skills help CHWs identify issues in their communities and what causes them. They might do this via evaluation projects, and then collecting data on them. By sharing results to stakeholders and community leaders, they can make critical changes in services happen.

8.      Experience and Knowledge Base

Being a CHW means understanding the landscape. They must fully understand the community, including social determinants of health and local and national health issues. With this information, they can find ways to improve the health of their clients and promote self-care. Basic public-health principles helps CHWs understand how US social-service systems work.

9.      Individual and Community Assessment and Direct Services

Identify the needs of a community is a must for any CHW. An assessment includes identifying the strengths and available resources of their communities. They also sort out what is necessary to help meet those needs and why clients should care. This also extends to individuals, who need to overcome barriers in order to receive social and health support.

10.  Interpersonal and Relationship-Building Skills

The field of behavior change is largely about relationship-building. Whether CHWs are building relationships with their clients, their workplace peers, or management, their career largely depends on their ability to build strong bonds with each group of people.

This can be an effective strategy to establish trust with people and in communities. Relationship pros are open-minded and know how to use Motivational Interviewing techniques to support clients.

11.  Outreach Skills, Methods and Strategies

CHWs are like marketers for the services available to their clients. So knowing how to develop and implement outreach plans is important. This includes finding the best ways to reach their community members–often via phone, email, or social media—to share information about programs and resources. This also builds on ways to create and maintain relationships with community members and partners.

12.  Professional Skills and Conduct

Having base professional skills and how to conduct in the job is a key to success. CHWs need to understand the context of and how to handle legal and ethical challenges. This includes respecting confidentiality and privacy rights, and responding appropriately in complex situations. This varies by agency, so they should know how to understand and follow agency rules.

Looking for ways to develop and refine these skills and competencies for members of your CHW team? Join CHWTraining for a deep dive into the first and most common core competency—What Is a CHW? in our free virtual training session on September 22 at 10 a.m. Pacific/1 p.m. Eastern.