Soft skills for CHWs

7 Must-have Softs Skills for CHWs in 2021

Imagine that person you’ve worked with who seems to have mastered their job. It’s that community health worker (CHW), promotor, or health navigator who seems to know all the community partners, who can cut through red tape, who can connect with coworkers and clients in a meaningful way. It’s that person that everyone just seems to really like.

Maybe their secret is because they’re extremely nice. Some people, especially those who work in community health, are that way. Or, more likely, these CHWs have a carefully crafted set of soft skills.

→ Click here to download a guide to CHW core competency requirements in every state [Free Guide].

The core competency skills that all CHWs need, such as organizational skills or advocacy, are much easier to research and provide. In fact, you can read a list of what those competencies are and the sub-skills included in them right here.

But what about soft skills for CHW candidates? These are also important skills for CHWs — as well as any employee or volunteer — and they should be at the top of the talents you’re looking for in your applicants or to put on your own resume.

What are soft skills?

Soft skills are a mix of traits, behaviors, and attitudes that make it easier to get along with others and work effectively with others. They’re also important to any health worker job, including for CHWs, in which building rapport with clients is central.

Hard skills, on the other hand, are generally easier to identify and build in yourself or your staff. Examples of hard or technical skills are:

  • Organizational skills, such as scheduling appointments with clients and patients
  • Reading vital signs, such as measuring blood pressure
  • Documentation skills, like note-taking or updating client records

Building soft skills in CHWs

Hard skills like those listed above are straightforward to teach. They’re clearly measured and defined for a job.

Some people seem to be born with good soft skills. They don’t necessarily need extra support to do what they’re already good at. But soft skills can also be developed. If you’re a supervisor, you can also learn to look for them and train your team in them. Soft skills are the ones that make up a career.

7 soft skills for community health workers’ careers

Examples of soft skills that are important for CHWs in healthcare and community settings are:

Communication

Strong communication is one of the core skills of healthcare workers, including health promotors (promotores de salud), CHWs, peer educators, and those in similar roles.

Communication skills help CHWs build rapport with their clients and make it easier to serve as a liaison in challenging settings, such as navigating insurance, accessing care for their patients, keeping their community informed, and handing them the tools they need to make healthy choices and improve health outcomes.

Communication skills for CHWs include:

  • Conflict resolution: Ability to avoid or resolve conflicts
  • Cultural understanding: Understanding and connecting in culturally diverse settings
  • Nonverbal communication: Including perceiving patients’ cues and concerns

Empathy and compassion

CHWs have a leg up in community care because they can connect deeply with the population they serve. Part of this connection comes from a shared background.

As a CHW, approaching patients from a place of empathy and compassion that comes with understanding the cultural context of patients’ conditions adds an extra layer of care to the service. In turn, this creates a safe space where patients can voice their concerns knowing they’ll receive respect and consideration.

Emotional resilience

Feeling overwhelmed by emotions and chronic stress are among the biggest causes of burnout for healthcare workers. Add bureaucratic challenges, overflowing desks, and patients at critical risk and it’s important that staff have adequate coping skills. Emotional well-being is key in job satisfaction and success but often overlooked.

For CHWs, emotional resilience means being able to adapt to daily stressors and juggle multiple situations without falling prey to despair and frustration.

Learn more about how to avoid burnout among CHW teams here.

Ethics

One of the most important soft skills for CHWs is strong ethical behavior. As part of the healthcare system, CHWs must adhere to strong ethical values in their career, including:

  • Honesty: As a healthcare professional, the CHW must be transparent in the services they offer to guarantee the best possible outcome for patients.
  • Confidentiality: In any health setting, a patient will be more likely to cooperate if they can trust that anything they share will be kept private between them and the provider. Confidentiality is a central part of the code of ethics for CHWs and is required by law and employers.
  • Transparency: Being upfront about training, certificates, and other qualifications is key in any CHWs career.
  • Quality: CHWs must commit to providing the best possible service within their scope of work to every patient or client.
  • Safety: In high-risk situations, CHWs must communicate with the necessary authorities and follow state or local requirements in order to prevent harm to their patients.

Adaptability, flexibility, and stability

In an ever-changing field such as the healthcare industry, swiftly adapting to rising challenges and patient needs is a key for a successful CHW career.

Being flexible within the ethical boundaries of the profession implies alternative solutions to complex situations, providing resources, and walking unexpected paths to meet patients’ needs in the best possible way.

Active listening

As a CHW, a big part of the job responsibilities is understanding the community in order to help them thrive. This starts with observing the background or context — and most importantly, truly listening to what they have to say to get a comprehensive view of what the population’s needs are.

5 ways to improve listening skills:

  1. Make eye contact.
  2. Give the person you’re talking to enough time to talk — don’t cut them off mid-sentence.
  3. Show respect by never making clients feel rushed when they are with you.
  4. Maintain professionalism while being approachable at the same time.
  5. Ask open-ended questions designed to gather information.

Teamwork

The ability to work well with others is another important soft skill. CHWs should be able to function as part of a multidisciplinary healthcare team.

Establishing trust with peers and supervisors, being able to communicate openly and respectfully, and collaborating effectively is key to provide patients with a smooth healthcare service across educational services, preventive screenings, and care coordination.

Great teamwork skills can include any of the above skills.

How to train your team as CHWs with core competencies

What is a CHW? CHWTraining

What Is a Community Health Worker?

Community health workers are powerhouses that have a huge impact on the health of community members. But they’re still not as well-known as they should be among healthcare organizations, especially considering what a benefit they can have on improving people’s lives. So what exactly is a CHW? A CHW is someone who helps friends, neighbors and clients lead a healthier lifestyle. They provide basic education by answer questions about healthy lifestyles and chronic illness. They work with healthcare and community agencies to connect patients and clients with providers, nurses, insurance information, and other resources to manage and improve their health.

A CHW is someone who helps friends, neighbors and clients lead a healthier lifestyle.

CHWs usually come from the communities where they work, so they can build rapport with clients in a unique way.

CHWs work in a variety of places. They might work for local or state health departments or districts. They might work for community- or faith-based agencies. Others might work in clinics, health centers and hospitals.

Many countries are familiar with CHWs, as well as people with similar titles, such as health advocates, promotores, or peer health educators. They commonly work in places like Africa and Latin America and are more widely employed than in the US.

However, with the coronavirus, that is changing.

COVID-19 has created serious gaps in health services in the US, and CHWs are there to help underserved communities. Many communities rely on CHWs to help the public understand vaccinations, get services if they’re ill, and help them find services such as transportation, childcare and rental assistance. So, more employers are wondering how to train their team to be CHWs.

Community Health Worker Jobs

Recently, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that employment of 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.

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.

If you’re wondering what a CHW does, view our on-demand training about what a CHW is. It includes details on how CHWs work within agencies and how to CHWs can get started on their career.

It includes a deep dive into:

  • 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

Impact of Community Health Workers

CHWs have been very useful in helping high-risk patients set and reach health goals, and bridge gaps in healthcare around communities. They help keep people out of the emergency room and avoid the need for many procedures and care.

Studies show that the impact of CHWs extends long beyond their work with a client. So, by showing a person how to take charge of their health, where to find the help they need, and how to use the resources around them, they’re empowered to keep on the same positive path.

Job fairs are often a great place to find work for CHWs

Where Do CHWs Work?

The number of community health workers nationally is on the rise. Many agencies have discovered that these community health specialists are the key to reaching people who are often left out of traditional healthcare. And program directors are eager to have CHWs work in their teams.

The positive results of working with CHWs—and promotores, health advisors, community care managers, and similar—are clear. A recent study shows that working with a team of CHWs can lower emergency department visits (5%), drop hospitalizations (12.6%), and add up to a net savings of $1,135 per patient. The study showed that each CHW generated a net savings of $170,213 every year.

It’s no wonder why you’d like to hire a CHW or cross-train your internal team to be CHWs in this growing field. But you might be wondering where CHWs work, and if they’d be a good match for your organization. You might want to improve the health outcomes of your community no matter if you work in a clinic, a neighborhood, or a faith-based group. Do CHWs fit there?

The short answer is, “Yes!” CHWs anywhere have a similar role to link people with health and social services to improve the quality of care, but they work in many settings. They work wherever they live, including in rural areas, urban settings, and major metropolitan hubs. They work in borders and tribal communities in AI/AN nations. The most common employers of CHWs according to the BLS are:

Employer Percentage
Government 18%
Individual and family services 17
Religious, grantmaking, civic, professional, and similar organizations 14
Hospitals; state, local, and private 8
Outpatient care centers 8

Keep reading to learn seven specific work environments where CHWs are often employed.

7 Places Where CHWs Work

  1. State and local governments
  2. Clinics and hospitals
  3. Outpatient care centers
  4. Insurance companies
  5. Nursing care facilities
  6. Nonprofit groups
  7. Faith- and community-based groups

1. State and local governments

Many local governments (states, counties, and cities) employ CHWs. Many state governments are also responsible for creating programs and providing training so CHWs can move on to work in other areas.

Government agencies and efforts like Accountable Communities of Health (ACHs) are often dedicated to reducing the incidence of chronic health issues. They match up CHWs with prevention programs where they can be effective, particularly among low-income populations.

2. Clinics and hospitals

CHWs typically form part of the care team at clinics, hospitals, and primary care agencies. They’re assigned a client and visit them at home to coordinate clinic visits and create health management goals that promote self-management of disease and prevention.

Agencies use CHWs to help high-risk and high-needs patients. These patients sometimes go into the ER or hospital when they don’t need to. CHWs can address the social determinants of health that might be influencing them.

3. Outpatient care centers

CHWs are key team members in outpatient care centers including behavioral health centers, hospital facilities dedicated to ambulatory procedures (X-rays, testing and examinations, and more), and other non-emergency care centers.

Some of the tasks a CHW can perform at an outpatient care center include facilitate communication if there are language barriers, help patients through the check-in process (filling forms, obtaining relevant medical information), and care coordination (pre- and post-visit, including transportation arrangements and access to other resources).

4. Insurance companies

CHWs are the primary point of contact between a patient and the insurance company. They often go above and beyond providing strictly medical care to patients. They help guarantee the patients’ access to the care they need in order to improve their health outcomes. This, in turn, means lower patient-related costs for the healthcare system.

One of the main roles of CHWs in insurance companies is to help their community access medical care. CHWs can work with patients by:

  1. Advising them on healthcare and insurance plans
  2. Assisting in the signup process (forms and requirements, medical history, and beyond)
  3. Helping them access timely care

5. Nursing care facilities

CHWs are in a unique position to support patients in nursing care facilities, including elderly, those with chronic illnesses, or others needing long-term care. They share an understanding of the patient’s background in a way other healthcare workers don’t.

In a nursing home, CHWs can assist patients in securing treatment, advocating for proper care, arranging medical visits (including transportation, scheduling appointments, and even communication with the patient’s family), and functioning as caseworkers in the facility, monitoring changes and overall well being of the patient.

6. Nonprofit groups

CHWs are often employed in nonprofit groups (NGOs) as a bridge between communities and health systems and other systems of care.

Some of the tasks CHWs perform for nonprofits include community outreach, widespread screenings, vaccination coordination, peer educator services, home visits, chronic illness management, and more.

Local and international organizations rely on CHWs to reach target populations and provide the preventive care and treatment the community needs. In fact, even if you’re not familiar with CHWs, you’ve likely seen their work in low-income communities and even countries. Vaccination programs in Africa are a good example.

7. Faith- and community-based groups

The cultural background of CHWs and their community is an added bonus when it comes to serving in local initiatives. This is the case for religious groups, grassroots organizations like youth centers, and other similar initiatives.

CHWs are invaluable team members because of their closeness to the community they serve. Shared experiences, a common upbringing, and cultural sensitivity set CHWs apart and enable them to create deep bonds with their patients and clients.

These seven options are just a few of the places CHWs work. Many communities have creative projects that benefit from working with CHWs. No matter where they work, it’s a good idea to make sure your CHWs have been properly trained. Some states offer CHW certification, and there is a consensus of core competencies in most areas.

CHW Core Competency Training

Image credit: GHFP-II participates in the Peace Corps RPCV Career Fair in Washington, DC. Christine Deloff, of GHFP-II Recruitment is an RPCV herself.

Community outreach in Liberia by UNMEER

Community Engagement the Right Way with Outreach Skills

Four essential outreach skills for putting a community engagement plan into action.

After months—maybe years—of planning, research, building, and even growing a few extra gray hairs, your program is ready for your community. You’re certain that you’ve trained your community health team to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, keep people out of emergency rooms, lower their high blood pressure, control their diabetes, keep them safe from skin cancer. You’ve met all your grant objectives, you’re confident what you’ve created will help, and your community is…silent.

What did you miss?

It could be outreach.

Even the best programs can fail if no one knows about them. Keeping communities in better health begins with an outreach effort. All community health worker (CHW), care coordination or other health promotion teams should understand what outreach is and why it helps, so it pays to train them with the right skills to spread word about your programs and services.  Outreach is an important element of any core competencies training plan. Don’t forget to download our free guide to state requirements for CHW certifications.

What Is Community Outreach?

Community outreach is the practice of offering education, planning, and support activities to community members.

In terms of health, community outreach means connecting with community members to educate them about ways they can improve their health and the health of their family.

This might mean talking to local groups or using local and social media to discuss healthy habits. Or it might mean appearing at community events to do health demonstrations and build linkages.

Outreach is important for connecting people to healthcare and services. It helps to delivers evidence-based information and minimizes communication gaps among providers and the public.

For example, many communities are kicking off COVID-19 vaccination engagement programs. The problem is that COVID-19 hits communities of color especially hard. However, many people distrust government-run medical programs because of a history of medical racism and health inequalities.

Careful vaccination strategies that are focused on vulnerable communities—the ones where CHWs work—are working to break down misinformation and build trust. You can read more about some successful community engagement programs here.

COVID-19 immunizations begin

Photo: COVID-19 immunizations begin on Flickr

Community outreach and engagement is a process that happens over and over again.

Research shows that people won’t act on something until they’ve heard or seen it seven times, on average. The rule of seven is an old marketing rule that happens to still be true.

Successful outreach is definitely and art, but also a science. Skills can be learned, and many of them most CHWs already have through working with other health care practitioners and working with clients.

Safe Community Outreach During COVID-19

Community outreach programs can range in size and scale, but in 2019, they usually involved sending representatives to places like health fairs, farmers markets, and other local events to get personal with community members. “Personal” could range from shaking hands to taking blood pressure readings.

Here in 2020 amid the global coronavirus disease (COVID-19), those practices are restricted–if they’re even possible at all. Many events are virtual or canceled. Your staff needs to follow social distancing guidelines to keep everyone healthy and limit the spread of the disease.

However, now is exactly the time your agency might need to do more outreach. People need to know about wearing face coverings, staying home, staying apart, and getting vaccinations. Check out our COVID resources for CHWs.

Your agency will likely have to decide which outreach campaigns take a back seat for now, and which you will have to continue carefully. Some ways to do outreach without spreading the disease could be:

  • Care coordination or service coordination with telehealth
  • Making phone calls to community members for check-ins and reminders of important appointments

Increase training for CHWs in simple and effective practices they can do during a brief home visit. They might learn how to do first aid or brief screenings, such as for COVID-19 symptoms.  Online training platforms are a good solution for keeping your team up-to-date on outreach skills without gathering together in a room. Try a learning subscription from CHWTraining for year-round training or offer sessions on web meeting platforms like Zoom.

4 Top Outreach Skills

No matter if your outreach program is happening during the pandemic or later, here are four essential outreach skills to share with your team that they can start using right away.

  1. Build organizational skills.
  2. Tell a story—and feel free to make it personal.
  3. Make sure the right people hear it.
  4. Repeat and repeat again.

 

1) Build organizational skills.

Taking on an outreach project needs organization. If you’re a program manager, you’ll have to make sure your team members can control their own job duties and work well with others. It also means building skills in capturing information, conducting research. A good base in organizational skills will form a base of successful outreach projects.

2) Tell a story—and feel free to make it personal.

Our culture is built on connecting with others in society, and we make connections better through stories. Keeping hypertension under control might boil down to blood pressure readings, but it’s so much more engaging to know how and why it matters in real life. If you need help phrasing a story, the Acrobatant blog has a great article Three Ways to Tell Your Story in Healthcare Marketing.

ReThink Health also has a Public Narrative Toolkit for outreach skills that includes short videos, worksheets, meeting agendas, and coaching tips for telling stories.

When doing any kind of outreach, ask your team to think about their own experience or those of others and how it relates. This is what sparks excitement and engagement.

3) Make sure the right people hear it.

Part of being organized is identifying your target audience, or the people who you need to communicate with. Even the most compelling story and useful program or service will fall flat if you skip this step. Spend time carefully identifying who you need to reach with your outreach project.

For example, you might target mothers with small children with a sunscreen use outreach project. What places do they visit around town? Do they use social media? Do health fairs work for your clients? Can you partner with schools or businesses? Learn your audience and support system so you can connect meaningfully.

4) Repeat, and repeat again.

Once is never enough. After you’ve done the research, drafted the your story, and found a target audience, deploy the outreach plan. And then do it again. People need to be reminded, because they forget, get distracted, the information isn’t relevant—whatever the reason is, hearing a message multiple times makes it click.

Outreach skills are only one part of the most important skills to build a CHW training program that will guarantee the success of your program. Have a look at some of our skill-building training courses to think about how they fit into your initiative.

Originally published Sep 26, 2019, updated April 9, 2021.

CHW Training for Health Navigators, Promotores, and Other Titles

Professional development for community health workers (CHWs) is more useful and available than ever before. Health and community agencies are looking for ways to provide standardized and rigorous skill-building for their teams.

Teams of CHWs are growing all around the US. In fact, overall employment of health educators and community health workers is projected to grow 13 percent from 2019 to 2029.

But what if your team is similar to CHWs, but not exactly CHWs? How does professional health training work for them? Is CHW training a one-size-fits-all plan?

The short answer is probably. The long answer is, probably, but with some tweaking.

A successful CHW training strategy requires defined goals and guidelines. These come from management and from any state or employer requirements. But many healthcare workers have the same roles as community health workers with varying titles. Learn more about what it takes to train your team as CHWs here.

So applying training–core competency or health-specific–to any community health team is likely to be effective. It’ll be even more effective if you have some internal flexibility to decide what is right for each employee.

Community Health Worker Job Titles

People who work as CHWs and have a CHW certification know exactly what they do and how they’re supposed to do their job. They and their employers have a clear understanding of the best training.

But there are dozens of other job titles that also fit CHW. In fact, many surveys reveal that most people who are CHWs don’t have the official title of “community health worker.”

You might hear—or employ—people with these titles, who have participated in courses from CHWTraining:

  • Behavioral health specialist
  • Care coordinator
  • Case worker
  • Clinical coordinator
  • Community advocate
  • Community health advisor
  • Community health representative
  • Community health specialist
  • Family navigator
  • Health navigator
  • Health promoter
  • Lay health advisor
  • Outreach specialist
  • Peer educator
  • Promotor(a) de salud
  • Public health associated
  • Supported living staff

And many more. You can read more about other CHW titles and roles here.

These might be official titles, but they might not. Some employees refer to themselves as a CHW or other title if it’s more common in their community.

Consider using a consistent job title of “community health worker” to clarify the position internally and in the community, if possible. And make sure to include the term “CHW” in the job description, so it’s easy to that’s what you’re looking for.

How Are CHWs Different from Other Health Workers?

Many of the titles used for CHWs are actually job functions, which causes confusion. “Health coach,” for example, can be something that many people do, from a dietitian to an RN. And even a community volunteer.

CHWs are unique because they share a life experience with the people in the communities where they work. They often live alongside their clients, or they’re closely related in another way, such as language or background.

Training Your Health Worker Staff as CHWs

Even though the job title CHW is unique, people with different titles can do the same function. And a much wider team than just CHWs and health promoters can benefit from being trained as or alongside CHWs.

Cross-training means spreading knowledge in a team by creating a baseline education among everyone. But it can also be a wider and more impactful program in healthcare agencies if all employees are cross-trained as CHWs. Most CHW training programs are accessible, easy to integrate with existing schedules, and applicable to any health staff.

Using core competency cross-training on an entire healthcare team can strengthen teams, improve client and patient care, and increase team efficiency.

How to Train Your Staff as CHWs

Jumpstart your next CHW training initiative right away. Access this informative session on how to train your staff as CHWs.

 

CHW Core Competency Training