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
- What areas in your community need the most support?
- What certificates or training does your state require for CHW programs?
- What are your professional goals?
- How are you going to measure your CHW learning goals?
- 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.