Community Health Worker Core Competencies: Level up Your Community Initiative with CHWTraining

CHWs are the frontline health workers assisting those who need it most. With effective training, your team can help bring health to underserved communities.

Individuals in underserved populations often struggle to access the medical care needed to live a long, healthy life. Issues like cultural stigma, language barriers, and bureaucracy make health care difficult or impossible to access for many marginalized communities.

Especially in remote locations or those with little to no access to healthcare, such as impoverished towns and international borders, Community Health Workers provide much-needed relief to over-burdened healthcare systems, assist in the care, and offer personal support to patients and their families as community members deal with unique health challenges.

In the US, CHWs often work with immigrant communities, women at risk of (or experiencing) abuse, families at or below the poverty line, and aging adults who require attention but not necessarily 24/7 medical assistance.

Community Health Workers Make Health Care And Disease Prevention Accessible To Communities

While CHW regulations vary across states, most programs require basic career skills and core competencies to work as a Community Health Worker, promotor de salud, or health advocate with registered organizations.

Besides hands-on experience in the field, professional CHW training is advised and should cover core competencies like:

  • Advocating for patients’ needs
  • Helping patients and families get the care they need
  • Bridging the gap between patients and their caretakers
  • Cultural nuances such as navigating language barriers and cultural stigma
  • Raising awareness about health and disease prevention
  • Identifying the needs of patients and populations
  • Assessing needs and opportunities in underserved communities
  • Engaging with individuals and organizations alike
  • Planning and implementing community events

Does your team feel prepared to take on these responsibilities?

Update Your Team’s Core Skills Training With CHWTraining’s Core CHW Competencies Course

A successful CHW program starts by ensuring your staff has a solid foundation to provide the much-needed care to patients and their loved ones. And the basic legal requirements to meet your state’s certification criteria.

Related: Curious about your state requirements? Core Competencies To Start Your CHW Program

At CHWTraining, we’re excited to announce the launch of a limited enrollment program: CHW Core Competencies, now with a Certificate of Completion.

The newly updated CHW Core Competencies course will help you shape your career, agency, and community. It covers all the basics you’ll need to promote support community members no matter where you live.

Continue your career path by following with CHW Core Competencies II. Building an effective foundation will expand your capabilities to improve health outcomes and connect clients to care.

Don’t miss out. Register now and get access to:

  • CHW Core Competencies – Foundations Curriculum (40 hours online instruction)
  • Job Growth Toolkit
    • Goal-setting worksheet
    • CHW Requirements by State
    • Professional templates (including a cover letter and resume)
  • Core Competencies Toolkit
    • Scope of Practice Template
    • Bonus case studies
    • Resources

 

 

3 Steps To Advance a CHW Career

A community health worker (CHW) job is especially rewarding and it is a critical piece of a healthcare team.

It’s also a good option for a career. There are more jobs than ever in this field. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) says “overall employment of health educators and community health workers is projected to grow 13% from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations.”

→ Enroll Now: CHW Core Competencies Online Training [Certificate]

Many CHWs use their position as a career advancement opportunity that leads to other areas of healthcare. They use a solid foundation in core skills as a stepping stone to jobs up the career ladder. You can use your experience to move into leadership roles, administrators, and more.

You’ll create your own path for advancement based on the skills you start with and where you want to go. However, here’s a rough step-by-step guide that can show you what to think about and in what order as you think about moving up the CHW career ladder.

Step 1: Attend a CHW training program

The first step is to improve that baseline education with the most essential core skills training for a CHW career. Training programs usually cover core competencies, such as communication or outreach skills. They also cover some information about health-specific topics, such as heart disease, or cultural competency. Here are the 13 most common core competencies for most employers and programs.

Step 2: Get certified

CHWs are employed in every state of the US (except South Dakota, for which no data is available), according to the BLS. Each state has independent job requirements, which vary from college degrees that take multiple years to complete to on-the-job training. Some states require certification, and some employers require certificates of completion to show successful training.

Here are some requirements from a handful of different states.

 

Step 3: Earn some on-the-job experience

CHWs almost always need to do some on-the-job training. Some programs, especially some very good state-sponsored programs, include this apprenticeship period as part of the program. Some employers provide it as part of being hired.

Step 4: Specialize

As a CHW, you can specialize in almost any area of medicine, from autism spectrum disorder to Alzheimer’s to asthma. You can work in a variety of settings, such as communities, hospitals, nonprofit organizations, doctor’s offices or schools, and each of these are in their own way a specialization.

These specializations are helpful in any CHW job, but they can also lay the groundwork to these kinds of positions:

  • Certified diabetes educator
  • Diabetes educator
  • Health educator
  • Certified drug & alcohol counselor

Step 5: Boost your training

CHWs often, but not always, need a high school diploma to get a job. If you’ve already entered a CHW job without a high school diploma or equivalent, this stage is a good time to get one.

Many CHW positions also require you to have a Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) credential or CPR/first aid certification. If you get these, they can open many more opportunities.

Step 6: Move up into a new position

If you’ve gone through all the previous steps, you’ve already gone a long way toward your career advancement. You might already have more options and better jobs.

You might also want to think about higher level education. Being a CHW is an excellent first step to being a…

  • medical assistant
  • nurse
  • dietitian

These jobs all require an advanced degree. So explore how training you have as a CHW can lead into an associate degree. How would that associate degree lead into a bachelor’s degree? What about a foreign language skill?

Keep working, and you’ll be able to use a CHW career as a way to keep moving up the career ladder.

Smiling CHW Learner

12 Skills You Need To Build a CHW Career

Employment opportunities for community health workers (CHWs) are better than ever.  More organizations are looking for ways to include CHWs and provide more CHW core competency training for internal staff.

This has never been so true as now, while the world is fighting to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and to give some relief to overtaxed health care systems. CHWs have an especially important role to play. The US Department of Homeland Security specifically called out CHWs as:

“Essential critical infrastructure workers who are imperative during the response to the COVID-19 emergency for both public health and safety as well as community well-being.”

→ Enroll Now: CHW Core Competencies Online Training [Certificate]

This is a great opportunity for anyone looking to put themselves on a CHW career path while improving health outcomes for their community.

Careful planning of a CHW career path can allow anyone who starts with an entry-level job to expand it into a rewarding career. As need for this role keeps growing, CHWs can not only increase the health knowledge of their community members but also increase their own reach to more people and other job opportunities.

CHW Job Outlook

The statistics are inspiring. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for CHWs are expected to rise 18.1% by 2026. That means that 10,400 jobs could open up. Also, salaries for already employed CHWs are increasing. Wages are good, about $19 per hour, or $39,540 every year.

Gaining the skills to become a CHW can open the door to a money-making and secure career.

Building a CHW career path–rather than just finding an entry-level job—involves understanding the core competencies and what kinds of skills are useful for growth into the future.

In order to earn a profitable job and build a lasting career, current CHWs and people who would like to be one need to keep their health and professional skills sharp. They need to take extra training and prove their knowledge and expertise through certification.

CHWTraining’s Core Competencies Training offers complete, up-to-date training for employers who want to provide staff with foundational skills and knowledge of specific health topics, such as diabetes or breast cancer.

We created the quick guide below as a tool for employers who want to build sustainable training programs and CHWs who want to understand the job qualifications.

CHW Core Competencies

CHWs are employed in every state of the US (except South Dakota, for which no data is available), according to the BLS. Each state has independent job requirements, which vary from college degrees that take multiple years to complete to on-the-job training. Some states require certification, and some employers require certificates of completion to show successful training.

CHW jobs by state

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

However, many core competencies training requirements are similar. The following are common skills required by many programs and advisory committees. Here are some CHW core competency training areas common among the Washington State Department of Health’s CHW program, the Roles and Competencies from the Community Health Worker Core Consensus (C3) Project, the US Department of Labor Employment & Training Administration, and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. You can compare more national requirements at State Community Health Worker Models from the National Academy for State Health Policy (NASHP) or from this guide.

12 Most Important Skills To Build a CHW Career Path

CHW Core Competency Example Skills
Advocacy Skills/Capacity Building Skills
  • empowering clients
  • motivating people to manage their own health and advocate for themselves
  • helping clients and patients set and reach their goals
  • supporting behavior change
  • identifying and overcome barriers
  • understanding community cultures and ways to reach members
Care Coordination or Service Coordination and System Navigation
  • navigating systems
  • collaborating with partners to connect clients and patients to resources
  • helping service providers work together
  • telling systems about needs of people
  • helping to develop and implement care plans
Communication Skills
  • listening skills
  • language skills
  • building rapport
  • using nonverbal communication
  • resolving and avoiding conflict
  • understanding and working within culturally diverse communities
Cultural Humility/Cultural Responsiveness
  • serve as a bridge between different cultures
  • translating healthy behaviors into culturally appropriate equivalents
  • understanding and working to reduce health disparities
  • using cultural sensitivities for all diverse groups
  • behaving respectfully
  • identifying biases
Education and Facilitation Skills
  • using various ways to deliver health information clearly
  • explaining terms in plain language
  • promoting healthy behavior change
  • finding and use resources to develop self-efficacy skills
Evaluation and Research
  • identifying issues in communities and their causes
  • conducting evaluation projects
  • collecting data
  • sharing results
  • communicating to stakeholders to make changes in services
Experience and Knowledge Base
  • fully understanding the community, including social determinants of health, health issues, ways to improve health and self-care, and basic public-health principles
  • understanding how US social-service systems work
Individual and Community Assessment and Direct Services
  • identifying needs, strengths and resources of communities
  • helping meet needs
  • helping clients understand their needs and overcome barriers
  • providing social and health support
Interpersonal and Relationship-Building Skills
  • establishing trust with people and in communities
  • being open-minded
  • using Motivational Interviewing techniques
Outreach Skills, Methods and Strategies
  • developing and implementing outreach plans
  • sharing information about programs and resources
  • creating and maintain relationships with community members and partners
Professional Skills and Conduct
  • understanding and handling legal and ethical challenges
  • respecting confidentiality and privacy rights
  • responding appropriately in complex situations
  • understanding and following agency rules

Originally published Oct 31, 2019, updated October 02, 2020.

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.

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 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 is destined to 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 a critical 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 and engagement means talking to local groups, using local media and social media to discuss healthy habits, or appearing at community events to do demonstrations and build linkages. Outreach is essential for connecting people to healthcare and services. It helps to delivers evidence-based information and minimizes communication gaps among providers and the public.

And you need to do it many ways, and you need to do it 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 collaborating 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 unthinkable—if they’re even possible at all. Many events are virtual or canceled, and your staff needs to follow social distancing guidelines to keep everyone healthy and limit the spread of the disease.

The irony is 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 flu shots. 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, such has 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.

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 requires organization. If you’re a program manager, you’ll have to make sure your team members can control their own chaos and work well with others. It also means proficiency in capturing information, conducting research. A good base in organizational skills will form the foundation 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 the best way to do that is to listen and relate to others’ 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, because 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 your message 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 Aug 28, 2020.

3 Powerful Communication Skills That Build Rapport

Building strong communication skills is one of the core skills of a career as a health promoter, such as a community health worker (CHW) or promotora. Learn about these powerful communication skills and how to improve them and add them into your CHW program.

One of the most important skills that health promoters, such CHWs, need to have is the ability to form a healthy rapport with clients and patients.

[Learn the Most Important CHW Core Competencies – Read Now]

Rapport is the strong connection that helps relationships to build and strengthen. But it doesn’t come automatically, at least not all the time. Some people simply click and don’t have to work at developing it. The good news is that establishing rapport is a skill that any CHW can build and use with any client.

Why Does Rapport Matter?

The benefits of this communication skill to a CHW program are significant. Building rapport requires a minor time investment but pays off majorly with patient compliance, understanding the disease process, and even the eventual health outcomes.

There are three skills that you should follow in order to establish a good rapport with clients and patients:

1.    Listen

A large part of successfully supporting clients and patients is giving information and effectively getting your point across. But listening to what your clients have to say is equally important.

Melissa Daimler of Twitter wrote an article for the Harvard Business Review that explains different levels of listening:

Level 1: internal listening – is when you focus on your own thoughts, worries, and priorities, while you look like you’re focusing on the other person.

Level 2: focused listening – this next level means you’re focusing on the other person, but you’re not really connecting all the way.

Level 3: 360 listening – here’s the goal. This is when you’re listening to what someone is saying and how, plus interpreting what they’re not saying with words.

Building listening skills is tough. But you here are some ways to improve:

  1. Make eye contact.
  2. Give the client 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.

 

2.    Understand

CHWs find solutions to clients’ health problems by understanding their situation. You may not agree with all your clients or even like all of them, but making a genuine effort to understand where they are coming from is a large part of building trust and loyalty.

Cultural sensitivity is important because some issues, such as family planning, are still taboo and need to be approached with a certain restraint to avoid causing uneasiness.

The goal here is not to turn your clients into friends but to know them more than just what is on the case history sheet.

Ways to improve understanding skills:

  1. Repeat what your client says back to them. And ask them to repeat back any instructions you give to them.
  2. Practice empathy by putting yourself in the shoes of your clients. And cultivate a shame-free environment for sharing.
  3. Know your community through a community assessment. This will help you know what kinds of challenges your clients face before even talking with an individual. This should be part of community engagement and outreach training.
  4. Do what you can to boost your clients’ health literacy skills. This will help them read, understand, and act upon information you share.
  5. Encourage clients to share their views with you and ask them what they think to gauge at what level of understanding they have.

3.    Be Clear

One of the common mistakes that all healthcare providers make is assuming their clients know more than they do. Use your listening and understanding skills to tailor the information being shared. It is important that the client and healthcare provider be on the same plane of communication so they can work towards the same goals.

  1. Use the right language. This might be avoiding medical jargon or using multilingual resources.
  2. Include visual aids. They will help bring your words to life and encourage the clients to be more participative in the process.
  3. Say the same thing in different ways. Repeating yourself is OK, especially in slightly different ways that makes it easier for someone to get what they might have missed the first time.
  4. Slow down. It might take longer, but good communication means you have to speak slowly. Plus, it will save on clarifying phone calls later.
  5. Explain why. Sometimes people don’t make lifestyle changes because they don’t know why. Explain the reason for doing something to really drive the point home.

Getting clients to trust a CHW and other healthcare providers is as important as any treatment they receive. Every client walks in with similar expectations of wanting to be heard, demanding your complete attention and to be kept in the loop as to the decisions being taken. A couple of minutes of undivided attention on every visit is all that is required to achieve all of this.

Photo by Christina Morillo from Pexels

Top 5 Ways To Assess CHW Skills and Core Competencies

Read how you, as a program manager, director or HR manager, can use to learn more about abilities of your new or existing community health worker and increase your impact.

Your health agency has to adapt fast to improve the health outcomes of your community members, and keep people out of the ER. But in order to do that, your community health workers (CHWs), promotores, or other health advocates need to be ready to act.

Make a smooth liftoff of your CHW initiative by knowing just what kinds of skills your agency’s CHWs and related staff already have. And then you can note what core competencies they’re missing so you can build a comprehensive training plan.

[FREE RESOURCE: CHW Core Competency Requirements for Your State]

Once you have that information, you can organize training to fill in the gaps in their knowledge and skills.

Here are some effective methods you can use to assess your CHW team’s skills and competencies. Note that your state may have different competencies for CHW certification, so you should research local requirements.

Top 5 Ways To Assess CHW Skills and Competencies

  1. Test Your CHWs
  2. Request a Self-Assessment
  3. Collect Team Feedback
  4. Test CHWs in the Field
  5. Ask for Clients’ or Patients’ Feedback

1. Test Your CHWs

Probably the easiest and most straightforward way to find out what kinds of stills your CHW team already has is to test them. You can find a test online or create one of your own to assess their technical knowledge. These kinds of tests give very clear pass/fail results. However, they can be fuzzy on whether someone knows how to apply that knowledge with clients and patients.

2. Request a Self-Assessment

Asking your CHWs to prepare a self-assessment of their skills can give you a more nuanced idea of how well they can do the tasks on their job description. This method is helpful because it shows their abilities and also how they perceive their abilities.

You can structure these assessments by asking CHWs to tell you how familiar they are with key CHW skills, such as:

Rate how comfortable you feel preparing a client intake form:

  • Very comfortable
  • Comfortable
  • Slightly unsure
  • Not at all sure

These kinds of assessments are most helpful when combined with a more objective test. Sometimes CHWs can over- or underestimate their abilities.

3. Collect Team Feedback

Team-members, especially members of a multidisciplinary healthcare team, can have a much clearer idea of the competencies of the CHW working with them. So ask for their feedback. They can anonymously present an assessment of the CHW and where they might need extra skills. Just make sure to keep it at a high level.

4. Test CHWs in the Field

The best way to train and assess core competency skills is to see how a CHW uses them in practice. You or a mentor can watch the CHW in a variety of real or role-play scenarios to see how they fare.

The benefit here is that your assessor can ask the CHW unexpected questions or try out unusual circumstances. This will let you explore situations that are much more complex than a standard test.

5. Ask for Clients’ or Patients’ Feedback

Another kind of in-the-field testing is to actually find out how the CHW is doing with clients. You can survey their clients directly and find out if there are areas for improvement. This can be a great way to learn about your CHW team, but also find out about the unique needs of your clients and how you can support them better.

Best of all, you might like to choose all of the methods above or at least a combination of them. This mixed approach can give you the truest sense of how your CHWs are performing in their jobs.

Photo by Retha Ferguson from Pexels