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