Hiring community health workers

Hiring Community Health Workers: Everything You Need to Know

Community health workers are a priceless addition to any healthcare system. In fact, studies show that CHWs can represent significant savings for healthcare teams. So it makes sense that many organizations are hiring community health workers as they expand services and reach.

But what exactly are community health workers and how can you incorporate them into your program successfully?

This article includes CHW job descriptions, recruitment and retention tips, core competencies, and training for a successful community health program.

What Are Community Health Workers?

Let’s start with the basics. What is a community health worker and how does it differ from other frontline health workers? A community health worker, often called CHW, is a frontline health worker that’s a member of the community they serve.

Community health workers interact with vulnerable populations, often those facing discrimination within the healthcare system. These include but aren’t limited to immigrant, rural, or low-income communities where access to healthcare is difficult or expensive. 

A good example of what CHWs do is working with immigrants in farming communities, many of whom don’t speak English. The CHW serves as a bridge between the population and the healthcare services they need. These services can be preventative, such as screenings and risk prevention (substance use and lifestyle changes), or they can be treatment-oriented, such as managing chronic conditions like diabetes or hypertension.

Community health workers help patients by:

  • Providing resources about the type of screenings patients may need to prevent disease.
  • Providing information about local healthcare facilities to access proper care.
  • Coordinating transportation to and from healthcare facilities.
  • Helping patients adopt healthy lifestyles.
  • Interpreting conversations between providers and patients when there are language barriers.
  • Breaking down complex medical terms into simpler words for patients to understand.

Where to Find Community Health Workers?

The first step when hiring a community health worker is to decide whether you can employ existing staff or need to look elsewhere. Both strategies have pros and cons to consider, but in general, a mixed approach can give you great results.

Let’s explore each strategy and how to implement it:

Recruiting Internally

You may have staff on hand that’s a perfect fit for a CHW role. Look for those who are natural connectors, communicate well, and have a good understanding of your organization and the community you plan on serving. Core skills can be trained, but these soft skills are priceless when staffing your CHW initiative.

One of the biggest advantages of recruiting internally is the lower cost compared to hiring outside help. You can rely on managers and supervisors to refer you to potential candidates. Besides, you already invested in the onboarding process and compliance training, which means you can skip right to core competencies training.

Recruiting internally is also quicker since there are no job posting or interview phases to go through. You have all the documents you need for potential candidates.

On the flip side, you may face resistance when recruiting internally. Especially if there are several candidates being interviewed for the same position, choosing one over another can create resentment. Another aspect to consider is how the dynamics will shift if there’s a perceived power imbalance with the transition.

Recruiting externally

If you’ve looked within and can’t find a great CHW candidate in your organization, it’s time to find external candidates. With this approach, you can find community health workers with experience in specific areas or with specific communities’ needs. A few of the benefits of recruiting externally include:

  • A fresh perspective on your program and a population
  • New ideas they learned from outside agencies
  • Better skill sets, such as language skills or understanding of a health topic like breast cancer screening, that you might not have internally

Now, the first places you may think of when recruiting externally are job boards like Indeed and LinkedIn. But there are many alternatives to recruit CHWs outside of these. For example, you can post an ad on your website, promote the search among your network, contact an administrative staffing agency, or connect with a training organization like CHWTraining.

If you’re having a hard time finding candidates, consider asking partners for help as they may have a bigger network. You can also contact local agencies and organizations where the CHW will be working. Some examples of local organizations include churches, clinics, and local businesses which may have a good idea of local leaders who could step in. Your area might also have a CHW association that accepts job postings.

These are the top resources and tools you’ll need to find, train, and retain talents that align with your organization’s mission. Download your Guide to Hiring & Retaining the Top CHW Talent [Free Resource Bundle].

Community Health Worker Applications and Interviews

Once you choose a strategy for finding CHW candidates, it’s time to craft a job description. The community health worker job depends on your program and your community’s needs, so there’s no cookie-cutter job description to copy/paste.

Instead, your job description needs to showcase your organization’s mission and values. It also needs a clear description of the required experience and qualifications as well as soft skills.

At CHWTraining, we designed a comprehensive template that’ll give you a headstart for a CHW job description that’s sure to capture great candidates that align with your mission. Grab it here.

Next, you want to prepare for the interview. Before booking any meetings, work on these steps:

  • Prepare a series of baseline questions to secure that the candidate meets your organization’s basic needs. Availability, expectations, and surface-level background information are some topics you can start with.
  • Consider the community’s specific needs when selecting candidates. Does the candidate share a background with this community? Is there a cultural connection? Do they have specific language skills? Is there a bias or background element that could impact the CHW’s care? This is especially important for LGBTQIA2S+ communities, communities of color, or religious groups.
  • Analyze the essential skills your program needs. You’ll need to decide if you have the budget to provide training or prefer to work with experienced CHWs with specialized training.
  • Finally, look for soft skills. Strong communication, organizational skills, ability and willingness to learn, emotional resilience, and clear boundaries are some of the most important measures of success for any CHW.

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Average Salary for Community Health Workers

Community health worker jobs have been increasing for years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that this upward trend will continue. So now is a good time for hiring community health workers.

The average salary for CHWs in the US as of June of 2022 is $18.63 per hour or $33,860 per year according to Indeed. That said, the range differs significantly based on location and institution, with California, NY, and Washington having some of the highest reported salaries for CHWs. And the BLS places the median yearly salary at $48,860.

Other Titles for Community Health Workers

Depending on where you are and the scope of your agency’s work, you may find other titles that do similar jobs to CHWs. Some of these titles include:

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

Increase Retention for Community Health Workers

One of the most common problems for healthcare workers is the high turnover. In the case of CHWs, we’ve found that providing specialized training and the opportunity to develop a career path helps increase retention.

Depending on where you are, you may find when hiring community health workers that some may come with training on core skills and certifications. Others… not so much. You want to meet your CHWs where they are and offer training to complement their existing skills or develop core competencies if they’re brand new. Regardless of specialized training and experience, you’ll need to cover your basis with a strong onboarding program that includes an overview of what their role entails, your agency protocols, necessary compliance training such as HIPAA, and company culture.

Engaged workers are more likely to stick around. So consider implementing a mentorship program and pairing newer CHWs with more experienced team members for fieldwork. These options provide an invaluable learning opportunity and improve your patients’ experience.

Training opportunities and career development are attractive incentives for CHWs to remain at a job. Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do to prevent high turnover and retain the top community health worker talent in your organization. Learn more.

Training for Community Health Workers

CHWs are the foundation of any community health initiative. So you want to guarantee their access to the best education and resources to ensure a successful program.

You can recognize an under-trained CHW team by:

  • Finding that work is slipping through the cracks and not getting done.
  • Multiple team members’ functions overlapping — which is a big waste of resources and time.
  • Your staff lacks confidence — especially when facing new initiatives or program rollouts.
  • Noticing friction or frustration among your staff.

The first step you need to take when planning your CHW training is identifying where each team member is in their education. You want them to have access to resources that adapt to their current knowledge so they can get the best out of any training.

Next, consider your individual state requirements and community needs as you research training options for your team.

Unsure of where to start planning your CHW training program? Start with the basics. Click here to learn more.

Core Competencies for Community Health Workers

Core skills or competencies are the basic skills your community health workers need for a successful community health program. So this is one of the main aspects to consider when hiring community health workers. Your needs may vary based on your location, program orientation, and community needs. However, over the years, as the work of CHWs expands, the definition of core competencies has become more defined.

Each employer may have a slightly different definition of application for each core competency. However, there is a set of widely accepted core competencies which we’re outlining below:

  1. Advocacy skills
  2. Capacity building skills
  3. Communication skills
  4. Cultural competence and responsiveness
  5. Education and facilitation skills
  6. Evaluation and research skills
  7. Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) Promotion
  8. Individual and community assessment skills
  9. Interpersonal and relationship-building skills
  10. Organizational and documentation skills
  11. Outreach skills
  12. Professional skills and conduct
  13. Public health
  14. Service coordination and navigation skills
  15. Social determinants of health

Many states, regions and employers follow recommendations from The Community Health Worker Core Consensus Project (C3), which recommends 10 roles and 11 skills, which you can read about here. Those skills are further broken into sub-skills.

Click here to discover what each CHW core competency includes, practical examples, CHW roles and careers, how to cross-train your staff, and how to get state certifications for the CHWs on your team.

Community Health Worker Requirements by State

Before hiring community health workers, you’ll need to understand your local requirements. Not all states have standardized core competency training for CHWs. But many do have helpful guidelines that can give you a headstart as you prepare to train and certify your community health workers.

CHWTraining is working on developing a list of CHW training requirements by state which you can access here.

These are the top resources and tools you’ll need to find, train, and retain talents that align with your organization’s mission.