How To Train Your Team to Be CHWs and Steps for Success

Community health workers have so many different roles and responsibilities, that if you’re like many managers, you’re are unsure of where to start when it comes to your CHW program and how to train your staff as CHWs.

CHWs are an important link between your agency and the community–now more so than ever. Bringing new hires up to speed should be as steady as a healthy heart, but that’s easier said than done. Some of the most common symptoms of an under-trained CHW team include confusion among a multidisciplinary team, CHWs not sure where they fit in, and friction or frustration among your staff.

Your CHWs can contribute to the success of a community-focused program as long as they’re trained to do their jobs according to standardized core competencies. CHW workforce training should be opened up to your staff and also their supervisors. This is often a foundation of online or on-site classes followed up by on-the-job practice.

Unfortunately, some agencies devalue the work CHWs do, so they skim over training as an unnecessary expense. They tap program managers, supervisors, or other employees to do quick orientations. That’s helpful, and certainly a valuable part of the bigger position, but not enough on its own.

Ensuring that your team has the tools to perform their job starts with considering the varying levels of experience and your CHWs’ backgrounds when it comes to ongoing training. Individual state requirements and different community needs are also key in a successful training program.

Lack of CHW Training Sets You Back

Community health workers (or promotores de salud) have a specific function within your agency and program, and they need to know exactly what’s expected of them. Without clear guidance, they’re set up to fail.

Some reasons why your CHWs may be struggling and need training:

  • They’re confused about their job and don’t know how to ask for training
  • They feel nervous or embarrassed about asking supervisors for job training
  • They react defensively to training support, especially if they feel they already know all there is to know
  • Overwhelmed supervisors are juggling multiple job duties to balance the gaps

Unfortunately, CHWs are often considered to be at the bottom of the agency hierarchy and as such, they’re the last person to be consulted when it comes to planning — or skipping — training plans.

In healthcare, the consequences of neglecting a core training plan are costly. At best, internal staff is confused, and that piles onto your heap of management duties. At worst, clients and patients might not get the care they need.

So what do you do if you have a team that needs core competency training but don’t know where to start? Lucky for you, this problem has already been solved. Read on.

7-Step Plan to Strong Core Competencies

  1. Give CHWs a detailed job description.
  2. Find gaps.
  3. Document obsessively.
  4. Set time on the calendar for training and check-ins.
  5. Set up ongoing training.
  6. Don’t skimp on the training budget.
  7. Ask an expert to help you with your training plan.

1. Define CHWs Roles with a Clear Job Description.

The first mistake many managers make when hiring new staff is failing to provide a clear job description.

Successful onboarding begins with a clear scope of work. In order to excel at their job, your CHW needs to know exactly what’s expected of them.

To get started, create an overview of the job in writing, and a bulleted list of what each duty is. It can be helpful to create a job workflow to think of all possible tasks and how they’re implemented.

If you’re at a loss, you could always start with something like Integrating Community Health Workers into Primary Care Practice from the National Health Care for the Homeless Council.

A clear role description and example workflows give your new hire the tools they need for a successful career from the start.

2. Find Gaps in Your Team’s Training or Experience.

Most agencies have at least some kind of internal training, and many have strengths in core competency areas like service coordination or ethics. Document what those training strengths are and then look for the weaknesses. Those gaps will tell you where you need to build out a comprehensive core competency training program.

On the flip side, take your new hires as an opportunity to evaluate company-wide gaps and overlaps. With a bird’s eye view of your team’s skills versus the program needs, you’ll likely find talent that’s being misused and areas that are lacking attention.

If you’re looking for a list of competencies, read Most Important Job Skills To Build a CHW Career Path.















3. Document successful processes, workflows, and resources.

In order to evolve as a leader and improve your organization, it’s important to document what works — and most importantly, what doesn’t work — within the needs of your program.

Setting up systems like templates, documented workflows that are easy to follow, and SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) prevents you from making the same mistakes and helps cut down decision making when it comes to getting stuff done.

The best part? You don’t have to do it yourself. Have your team document the processes and tools they use as they work to make compiling resources easy.

4. Set time on the calendar for training and check-ins.

Many unsuccessful training programs fail because there’s no urgency to complete or allotted time.

You can solve both problems by setting a training framework, including:

  • Set up one-on-one times with you or a job peer to ask questions
  • Allow staff one day or afternoon a week just for training
  • Expand weekly training allowances include what CHWs/Ps should be learning all year.

Bonus points for setting your own CHW training goals and making it a habit to keep track of progress.

5. Set up ongoing training.

Training isn’t a one-and-done event. It’s iterative and goes on to address the needs of clients, patients, and health trends.

Stay on top of your game and implement a continuous learning strategy so you can help your staff always be aware of changes in guidelines and new skills.

6. Don’t Skimp on the Training Budget.

When you’re figuring out how much to budget for your annual training plan, think about all the staff that should and can be trained under the same umbrella. CHWs/Ps need set courses for core competencies, but those courses can also be helpful for other staff or that might support other programs. That will help define where funding comes from and how much you can get from your investment.

Deciphering the true costs of online training is a complicated task that can easily reach beyond the boundaries of any grant or budget line item. Broaden your search to dig up all the costs you and your colleagues might be feeding into training–and identify ways to trim.

Your agency will set the training budget that fits, but make sure you have enough resources so you can do it right.

7. Ask an Expert to Help You with Your Training Plan.

Successful CHW training covers core competencies and many other nuances of client and patient care you might not have considered. For example, a breast cancer screening course is better implemented with an outreach skills course.

An expert can take into consideration all your agency’s needs and strengths and make recommendations. The expert might be a partner agency, someone who set up a CHW training program at a different agency, or one of CHWTraining’s education consultants.

When a CHW/P core competency plan is set and your team successfully completes it, everyone profits. Give your staff a chance to succeed, and your agency and community will benefit from a strong core.

Originally published July 10, 2020, updated February 26, 2021

Photo by Kampus Production from Pexels

These Are the New Job Skills CHWs Need Right Now

Everyone’s job is different nowadays. This means community health workers need an updated list of job skills. Everything you thought you knew about jobs for any kind of health worker is up for re-analyzing. That includes how people learn (remotely) to what they learn (cultural competency) and where they use those skills (phone vs. someone’s kitchen).

The future of healthcare focused on community members is still changing. How this workforce will look in years to come is still unclear. What is clear is that the skills CHWs, promotores, case managers, and others need to evolve too.

What those jobs look like already demands a new and improved batch of competencies that have been adapted to this world’s structure. These new skills will make it easier for community-focused healthcare to meet virtually. They will incorporate ways of managing stress and sharing those techniques with clients. They’ll include more ways to stretch care to people who have worse health outcomes than the people around them.

Whatever the new “normal” will be, here’s what’s clear about the new era of being a CHW.

New Job Skills for CHWs

Remote Learning Skills

“Remote” is a term that has new meaning for everyone. Now, it’s the way we define being together and apart at the same time.

The definition of being together remotely now includes learning together online. This is a given for anyone who wants to enter the CHW workforce and needs to build up core skills or for managers who need for their staff to adapt. Employees have a host of options for CHW core competencies that they can pick up from home or in their own time at work.

Learning remotely includes a variety of sub-skills that make it easier to succeed. These skills are also fundamental to a career in public health and working with clients.

  • Effective listening
  • Communication skills
  • Critical thinking
  • Resilience

System Navigation and Care Coordination

CHWs need to double-down on learning how develop and improve care coordination and system navigation skills to support clients in complex health environments.

Care coordination is an effective and significant part of high-quality and safe healthcare delivery. It is a critical skill that allows agencies to combine and share information among teams, organizations, and facilities whose services your client needs. This skill, paired with system navigation, is essential to coordinate care among many providers and agencies. It’s also a natural partner with building outreach skills.

These days, more clients are likely to fall into the definition of having complex health conditions. Agencies need to target clients and patients who are at the highest risk of serious illness and mortality if they get COVID-19. Identifying which clients have chronic illnesses or who are older is a care coordination activity that’s vital for CHWs.

Cultural Competency

Understanding the ways people interact with others with respect, empathy and curiosity has always been a cornerstone of what a CHW does. The last two years have revealed to everyone across the world the concept of cross-cultural competency and how that can affect a person’s wellbeing.

Training in cultural competency (for CHWs or any other member of a healthcare team) includes information on the various cultural groups learners may encounter in their work and how to recognize and demonstrate understanding of cultural differences. Training should introduce CLAS standards and provide practical tips on communication techniques, recognizing and working against stereotypes, and building trust among all people.

Here are key objectives for cultural competency training:

  • Understand the role culture plays in a person’s health, including behaviors, language, customs, beliefs, and perspectives
  • Learn culturally appropriate and respectful ways of communicating, including effective listening
  • Use empathy to connect with people who come from various backgrounds
  • Deliver health care services that meet the social, cultural, and linguistic needs of patients to avoid health disparities
  • Build relationships with partners and colleagues to deliver culturally and linguistically appropriate services
  • Increase such skills as emotional intelligence and critical thinking

Chronic Illness or Health-Specific Focus

Knowing the basics is just a beginning for CHWs. Once they have foundational training, they should move on to a specialization in a chronic illness or health-specific focus. People who utilize ERs the most often frequently have chronic illnesses, such as asthma or high blood pressure (hypertension).

Including training in chronic disease or other health area, such as oral health, can have a huge impact.

For example, a CHW’s impact on women with breast or cervical cancer or at high risk is broad. CHWs have a knack for making paths through hard-to-reach areas and populations. They’re powerful allies in the battle against breast cancer, especially in underserved communities, where they live, work, or understand deeply.

They can …

  • connect people directly with providers for treatment or screening,
  • give clients and patients resources about disease management,
  • bust myths about breast cancer (no, mammograms don’t cause cancer) and provide other education about lowering risk,
  • advise on health insurance and financial assistance, and
  • be there just to listen and provide social support.

Organizational Skills

Organizational skills are always important for the sometimes chaotic job of CHW. But they’re especially important now when CHWs are tasked with building up all the skills previously listed. Being able to prioritize, manage time, work well with a multidisciplinary team, and work with documentation systems are necessary.

When CHWs are organized, they can do their job in a timely, effective, and culturally competent manner.

One important sub-skill is establishing boundaries with clients and coworkers now that so many people are working from home. Some tips for this:

  • Create a work-only zone. This could be a home office, a table that’s folded and put away at the end of the day, or another area of the house that a staffer can leave when work is over.
  • Take control of a work schedule. This helps reinforce the work-only zone. This also means creating a schedule that allows for meetings with a multidisciplinary team, client follow-ups, and best working times.
  • Improve communication skills. Communicating effectively with teammates and staff will make remote working go that much more smoothly.

Self-care

Giving priority to self-care is now more important than ever—for managers, CHWs and clients.

Managers and supervisors need to prioritize their own self-care so they can be the reliable leaders their staff need. CHWs need to set limits and find ways to release so they don’t face burnout. Clients likely have multiple stressors that can combine to make all their illnesses worse and lower their immune systems.

Relaxation and mindfulness are skills that can help you in your personal and professional life—especially now when everything feels uncertain. Mindfulness practices can help people manage stress, deal with serious illness, and reduce anxiety and depression, according to the NIH. These are helpful skills to pass on to clients, employees, and the people around you.

Nearly everyone is feeling depression, anxiety, and stress right now, so it helps you and anyone you work with if you can pick up management skills. Start by recognizing the symptoms of depression from the National Institute of Mental Health.

Then what to do if you see them in yourself or in another. This guide will help you understand when it’s time to make a behavioral health referral.

Supervisors and program managers supporting a community health team with limited resources can easily feel overwhelmed. You have to think about self-care strategies to share, how to help them control stress, and spot signs of burnout and compassion fatigue.

Ongoing Learning

Learning is a continuum for CHWs and supervisors, and building these new skills are ongoing, even when the pandemic is over. Keep these skills sharp, and you’ll have happier staff who can improve health outcomes now and on into the future.

Everything You Need to Know About CHW Roles, Training, Titles, and Jobs

CHWs, promotores de salud, community health aides, peer educators — have you ever heard these titles and wondered what the difference is?

Those are various names that describe frontline public health workers that specialize in working in communities. Their focus is to help people increase their quality of life, prevent diseases, and manage treatment for existing health conditions, thus preventing complications. For simplicity, this article refers to all these similar roles as community health workers (CHWs).

Knowing what a CHW does can be confusing. That’s why we decided to put together a list of the most commonly asked questions about this workforce. Read on to learn more about what a CHW is, what one does, where they work, and other topics specific to this field.

Frequently Asked Questions About CHW roles, titles, programs, and responsibilities

  1. What is a CHW?
  2. What’s an example of a CHW?
  3. Where do CHWs work?
  4. What are the key skills a CHW needs?
  5. What are the responsibilities of a CHW?
  6. Other common titles for CHWs
  7. What does community health mean?
  8. Is community health worker the same as a community outreach worker?

What is a CHW?

CHW stands for Community Health Worker.  CHWs are frontline healthcare workers who help members of marginalized or underserved communities access the healthcare they need.

CHWs assist individuals in getting access to the healthcare services they need. They also coach clients to make healthy choices in daily life. They advocate for the proper care of their clients and encourage their clients to advocate for themselves. Their goal is to improve health outcomes for communities that may otherwise not get the quality care they need.

Many CHWs work with a multidisciplinary healthcare team or community groups to provide preventive care and health education. They all work together to help community members navigate the healthcare system and navigate systems, covering topics like medical interpretation as needed.

What’s an example of a CHW?

You may think you never heard of CHWs before. While the name may not be familiar, CHWs are likely all around you.

An example of a CHW is the local team promoting preventive care measures such as vaccinations, assisting the elderly in getting proper treatment, or raising awareness about culturally-specific health issues and disease management.

Where do CHWs work?

CHWs help bridge the gap between patients/clients and healthcare providers, so anywhere a patient may need assistance, a CHW may likely be found.

CHWs can work in a medical area or in communities. They may work at health services, including mental health facilities, substance abuse programs, nursing homes, or healthcare clinics. In a community context, they might work in a neighborhood or a faith-based organization.

In either context, they tend to provide support to connect clients or patients with preventive health services such as screenings, educational programs, and community outreach. Or help coordinate care, such as follow-up appointments.

What are the key skills a CHW needs?

A successful CHW career begins with specialized training in Core Competencies. These core competencies include:

  • Advocacy Skills/Capacity Building Skills
  • Care Coordination or Service Coordination and System Navigation
  • Communication Skills
  • Cultural Humility/Cultural Responsiveness
  • Education and Facilitation Skills
  • Evaluation and Research
  • Experience and Knowledge Base
  • Individual and Community Assessment and Direct Services
  • Interpersonal and Relationship-Building Skills
  • Outreach Skills, Methods and Strategies
  • Professional Skills and Conduct

Learn more about CHW Core Competencies training here.

 

What are the responsibilities of a CHW?

A CHW’s responsibilities vary a lot depending on the community they serve. Basic duties include:

  • Facilitate access to healthcare services (including coordinating transit, helping navigate health insurance, offering language services, and other similar tasks)
  • Assist in disease prevention — such as helping make the home a healthy environment for those with chronic illnesses (like asthma), educate their peers about healthy living, and encourage the population to get regular screenings
  • Advocate for the needs of the community they serve — including opening and maintaining communication with local healthcare providers
  • Organize local outreach programs — to raise awareness about the existence of the initiative, making it possible for everyone to access the services they need
  • Collect health data from a population — to report to healthcare officials

Other common titles for CHWs

Community Health Worker is an umbrella term for many frontline public health workers. Depending on their focus, other titles for CHWs include:

  • Promotor de salud, public health worker, lay health worker, outreach worker, outreach specialist
  • Community health advocate, community health representative, community health promoter, community connector, community health outreach worker, community health advisor, community health educator, community care coordinator
  • Peer educator, peer support worker, peer health promoter, lay health educator, lay health advisor, neighborhood health advisor
  • Casework aide, health aide (or community health aide), public health aide, environmental health aide, patient navigator, family support worker

What does community health mean?

Community health is a field of public health that specializes in the health and well-being of entire communities by promoting health initiatives in specific regions. This approach allows the population to receive relevant preventive healthcare depending on their social determinants, their race, and their cultural needs.

According to the CDC, “Working at the community level promotes healthy living, helps prevent chronic diseases, and brings the greatest health benefits to the greatest number of people in need.”

Is Community Health Worker the same as a community outreach worker?

Community Health Workers have many different titles. Depending on where you are, a Community Outreach Worker may be the same as a CHW.

Outreach planning is key in promoting CHW programs and helping communities benefit from the services offered by local organizations. Outreach programs can include engaging with local media (newspapers, TV channels, radio stations, and more) and participating in local events promoting health services.

Much like CHWs, Community outreach workers are the primary link between citizens and nonprofit or government organizations whose goal is to improve the quality of life in the communities they serve. However, Community outreach workers focus mainly on educating the community about the services the organization offers and inviting them to take part.

Photo by Lagos Food Bank from Pexels