Community Health Workers 101 Everything You Need To Know

Community Health Workers 101: Everything You Need To Know

CHW, promotor de salud, community health aide, peer educator — 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. They do this by helping prevent diseases, educating communities, and giving them the knowledge and tools to 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. This article provides answers to common questions about community health workers, their roles, and where they work. 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 Community Health Workers, What They Do, And Where They Are

  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 other types of training do CHWs receive?
  6. What are the responsibilities of a CHW?
  7. Other common titles for CHWs
  8. What does community health mean?
  9. Is community health worker the same as a community outreach worker?
  10. Are CHWs working in the COVID pandemic?
  11. Are CHWs certified or professionally trained?
  12. Does my health initiative need a CHW?
  13. Where should I go if I’m trying to hire a CHW?
  14. Who can train as a CHW?
  15. What are the salaries of CHWs?
  16. What does a CHW supervisor do?

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 Are Good Examples Of Community Health Workers?

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 Community Health Workers And Similar Titles 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. These can include health services, including mental health facilities, substance abuse programs, nursing homes, or healthcare clinics. On the other hand, 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 For a CHW?

A successful CHW career begins with specialized training in Core Competencies. These core competencies vary depending on where the CHW is, but they typically 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
  • Social Determinants of Health
  • Public Health Principles
  • 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 Other Types of Training Do CHWs Receive?

CHWs often receive specialized that matches up with whatever areas they’re working. Three common areas are:

  • Leadership Training: CHWs learn how to lead, gain responsibility and work well with others. This means they understand how to manage teams, solve problems, talk to people, and make decisions. They also learn how to speak up for their community’s needs and work closely with healthcare providers and community groups.
  • Maternal and Child Health: CHWs get special training to help pregnant women, new mothers, and kids stay healthy. They support mothers through mental health issues, support moms with substance use disorders, and can help support healthy wellness visits for a family. 
  • Behavioral Health: CHWs learn how to support people who are struggling with mental health or addiction issues. This includes knowing when someone needs help, being there to listen and offer support, and connecting them with the right services to get better

What Are The Responsibilities of a CHW?

A CHW’s responsibilities vary a lot depending on the community they serve. For example, basic duties may 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 Frontline Health Workers

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. With this approach, population are able 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. So yes, a Community Outreach Worker may be the same as a CHW in your area.

This may seem confusing, but outreach planning is key in promoting CHW programs and helping communities benefit from the services offered by local organizations. Outreach programs support this mission and inform the community about the services available. One way this can be done is by engaging with local media (newspapers, TV channels, radio stations, and more) and participating in local events promoting health services.

Plus, 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.

Are CHWs Working In The COVID Pandemic?

CHWs Working In The COVID Pandemic
Source: Unsplash

Yes. CHWs are important people working on education, support for conditions such as long covid, and vaccine confidence. 

Plus, besides their regularly scheduled work, CHWs have also assisted in pandemic relief efforts. So much so that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention launched Community Health Workers for COVID Response and Resilient Communities (CCR) initiative. The CDC invested more than $340 million across 67 organizations to support the hiring, training, and deployment of CHWs nationwide. The White House announced in the spring of 2021 that there would be additional funding for CHW programs supporting COVID relief for states with strained healthcare systems.

To learn more about what CHWs need to know about the COVID vaccine and how they can help, visit COVID vaccine information for CHWs.

Are CHWs Certified Or Professionally Trained?

Yes, CHWs receive professional training that’s complemented with their field experience. Depending on where you are, community health workers may need to get certified by a board or institution. They may also need to complete a certain number of hours of supervised work as part of their training.

Beyond the basic (or core skills) training for CHWs, it’s possible to specialize in different areas depending on the CHW’s interest. To dive into the career opportunities for community health workers, head to 3 Steps to Advance CHW Career.

Does My Health Initiative Need A CHW?

Probably. If you’re working with at-risk or marginalized communities, a CHW can probably help. Depending on the scope of your project, CHWs can be valuable allies in promoting your services, working as a bridge between your organization and the community you’re trying to reach.

Where Should I Go If I’m Trying To Hire A CHW?

To find CHWs, it pays to be creative. To start, you can find any local leaders who may point you in the right direction if there’s already someone nearby that could be of service. You can also tap into your network, especially if you’re in contact with NGOs, other health initiatives, and community leaders.

Another thing to consider is language barriers, especially when working with migrants and minorities. Religion and cultural values are also important to consider. Remember, the key element of community health workers is their cultural context. These people have firsthand experience and are familiar with the population you’re serving. So bringing in an outsider may not yield the results you’re after. 

Who Can Train As a CHW?

Community health workers are passionate individuals who are devoted to serving their community and improving health outcomes. People interested in other healthcare career paths are great candidates to work as community health workers as a first step. While anyone can train as a CHW, the most successful candidates are outspoken, comfortable meeting and engaging with many different people, and ready to advocate for their patients. 

That said, in many situations, CHWs will face injustice, discrimination, and less-than-ideal scenarios. As in other health care careers, CHWs face high rates of burnout and turnover. As such, emotional intelligence and resilience are also key for a successful CHW career. And so are strong communication and the ability to set clear boundaries.

What Are The Salaries of CHWs?

The wages of CHWs can vary from a volunteer model to a higher wage of $31.29, with an average of $20.90 per hour, according to

CHW Salaries
Source: CHW salaries

The median annual wage for CHWs was $46,190 in May 2022, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What Does a CHW Supervisor Do?

Being a supervisor for CHWs requires specific skills that may not be present in candidates with general management experience. CHWs deal with difficult and complicated situations related to health and social issues. A committed CHW supervisor plays an important role by offering necessary support and guidance to CHWs, helping them carry out their responsibilities. They provide mentorship, address any concerns and offer solutions to challenges faced by CHWs in their work.

Read more about the role of a CHW supervisor here.

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