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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 get vaccinated against the coronavirus, 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 will 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 an important 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 is the practice of offering education, planning, and support activities to community members.

In terms of health, community outreach means connecting with community members to educate them about ways they can improve their health and the health of their family.

This might mean talking to local groups or using local and social media to discuss healthy habits. Or it might mean appearing at community events to do health demonstrations and build linkages.

Outreach is important for connecting people to healthcare and services. It helps to delivers evidence-based information and minimizes communication gaps among providers and the public.

For example, many communities are kicking off COVID-19 vaccination engagement programs. The problem is that COVID-19 hits communities of color especially hard. However, many people distrust government-run medical programs because of a history of medical racism and health inequalities.

Careful vaccination strategies that are focused on vulnerable communities—the ones where CHWs work—are working to break down misinformation and build trust. You can read more about some successful community engagement programs here.

COVID-19 immunizations begin

Photo: COVID-19 immunizations begin on Flickr

Community outreach and engagement is a process that happens 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 working 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 restricted–if they’re even possible at all. Many events are virtual or canceled. Your staff needs to follow social distancing guidelines to keep everyone healthy and limit the spread of the disease.

However, 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 vaccinations. 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. They might learn how to do 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.

4 Top Outreach Skills

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 needs organization. If you’re a program manager, you’ll have to make sure your team members can control their own job duties and work well with others. It also means building skills in capturing information, conducting research. A good base in organizational skills will form a base 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 we make connections better through 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. 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 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 April 9, 2021.

Online CHW training tools - African American woman in front of a computer

How To Train Your Team in CHW Core Competencies

Find out about what CHW Core Competencies are, CHW roles, and CHW careers. Plus, we cover cross-training your staff, and how to get state certifications for the CHWs on your team.

In this presentation, we connect live with dozens of CHW program managers, directors and CHWs to talk about CHW roles in different states, the key aspects of CHW jobs, different job titles, and how to run a successful CHW program.

Now we want to bring this valuable information to you. Register online to receive a free replay of CHW Core Competencies – How to train your team as CHWs right in your inbox.

CHW Core Competency Training

Key areas of CHW Training and Core Competencies

  • CHWs’ roles in community healthcare: How CHWs help guard off disease, prevent hospitalizations and increase life quality in the communities they serve.
  • CHW workforce, jobs, and career paths: How to plan for a long, fruitful career as a CHW or use it as a stepping stone to other health-related fields.
  • CHW roles and responsibilities: Key functions of CHWs in different organizations.
  • Where CHWs work: The most common workplaces for CHWs, from fieldwork to care facilities and beyond.
  • How CHWs impact community health: The positive effects of CHWs in their communities are varied and long-studied. The CDC has shared multiple studies about the benefits of CHW programs in communities. Yet their crucial role is often forgotten.
  • CHW core competencies and common skills: Core CHW training for state certifications and core skills every CHW needs on the job.
  • How to train your team in core competencies: How do you get started with CHW training?
  • Cross-training your staff as CHWs: Benefits and key insight into this important step in community healthcare.
  • Specialized training: Needs-based training in fields like maternal-infant health, oral health, and more.

Plus, as a thank you for joining us, you’ll receive a bundle of resources along with your video. Look out for key state requirements for CHW programs, a Core Competency handbook, and much more.

Register now and receive the replay in your email. Plus the additional resources for a successful CHW program.

CHW Core Competency Training

 

 

 

Man's hand taking notes on paper next to a laptop

How to Create a CHW Training Plan

The benefit of having community health workers in communities and health systems is proven. More agencies than ever are hiring CHWs, promotores, or other community-focused health educators. They have such a positive outcome on access to healthcare services and set up a link between healthcare and urban and rural environments that many agencies are hiring or transforming their staff to be CHWs.

Register now for CHW Core Competencies – How to train your team as CHWs

However, laying down a training path for these staff members or volunteers is less clear. Some states and employers have strict training requirements and regulations for CHWs. Others have none. In some areas, the types of training a CHW has received limits the kinds of duties they can perform, such as taking blood pressure readings.

What’s more, every year brings a new cycle of best practices in health care, screening guidelines, new employees and promotions, and professional learning goals that set a CHW on a career ladder.

If you’re an administrator trying to work with CHWs, you can easily get lost in the maze of requirements and job changes. You might wind up with an over-trained team of CHWs who have bachelor’s degrees that they never use, or skip over core skills that would help CHWs do their job better.

Build a CHW Training Plan

A CHW training plan is the answer. The plan should be a framework that will provide a navigation system for organizing, delivering, and repeating CHW instruction whenever you need it.

If you create an annual training plan, then you can include requirements that come up year after year (e.g., HIPAA compliance) and also have a pathway for introducing new topics to keep building the skills of your CHW team.

Follow these five steps, and you’ll be on your way to setting in motion an effective learning program that can be used throughout the year.

1. Assess Your Current CHW Staff

The first step in starting an annual training plan for your program is to look at the training needs assessment to see what your CHWs need to know. Start by researching 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.

Here’s a strategy for assessing the existing skills and core competencies your team already has.

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

2. Check CHW Requirements in Your State

Note that your state may have different competencies for CHW certification, so you should research local requirements. Depending on where you are, your state may have legislation on your competencies and required experience as a CHW.

The Core CHW Core Competencies Resource Guide helps you start your community health worker training program by knowing what the requirements are in every state.

3. Check with Healthcare Leadership

Finding out what your stakeholders need from a program and what your CHWs need to learn will make sure that everything fits together and supports your program’s ultimate goals.

For example, imagine you run breast cancer screening program and the main goal of your program is to increase the number of mammography screenings in certain zip codes. Work backwards from there to come up with skills your team needs to know so you can deliver that to your trainees. This kind of team probably need to know the basics of what breast cancer is, risks of developing it, how it affects your community, prevention and treatment, and outreach and communication skills.

You might also want to include additional factors such as:

  • Overall agency goals or vision statement
  • The skills included in job descriptions
  • Compliance requirements, such as those for sexual harassment, HIPAA or patient rights

4. Decide Who Needs Training

Assume you’ve identified what your audience needs to learn. Next, figure out who needs to learn these skills.

Some people will be obvious, such as the CHWs directly working on your program. And others are less obvious, such as other support staff or community partners.

Think about the breast cancer screening program example above. If you ran this program, you might need to include in your plan:

  • Yourself, as well as other managers and coordinators from partner programs
  • Case managers
  • Patient navigators
  • Outreach workers
  • Nurses
  • Nonprofit community partners
  • Members of a multidisciplinary team

5. Optimize for Training Adult Learners

Keep adult learners engaged and help them retain what they learn by exposing them to the right kind of training materials. Some people define the word “training” very broadly, from a semester of college classes to a single PDF.

Keep adult learning principles in mind, and your CHWs will perform much better. Adult learning is relevant to the job, career and personal goals, task-oriented, interactive and usually self-directed.

Look at your training plan as a way to capture what works and repeat it in future offerings. It’s a great idea store the training materials in various formats to appeal to people who learn best in different ways. Some examples:

  • Written process documents especially used exactly when needed. An example would be a protocol for intakes on the phone, which is kept by the phone.
  • Screen shorts of video captures of process, live presentations, or demonstrations by in-house or outsourced experts.
  • Hosted elearning that’s available on demand. A learning management system (LMS) makes it easy to standardize training for everyone and is at hand whenever new hires need it or when veterans need an update. An LMS is a platform that you can use to deliver, track, and report on your training efforts.
  • Hands-on experience to bring the theory of training into practice. Give your staff the opportunity and chance to work on their new skills, and assign mentors and coaches to answer questions and provide guidance.

6. Connect All Parts of the Process

The point of creating an annual training plan is to work it into a repeatable cycle that supports overall goals. Here’s a structure that fits many agencies:

connect all parts

Start with the needs assessment or competency assessment to identify gaps to be filled with training.

Then find the areas for improvement and build those onto the CHW’s individual training plan for their job.

That will go into a CHW’s overall professional development plan, which is a chart for that person’s career at your agency.

Every year, check progress against these plans in an annual performance review, identifying areas to focus on for the coming year.

By building structure into your training plan for the year, you’ll get results and be ready for many years to come.

How To Train Your Team to Be CHWs and Steps for Success

Community health workers have so many different roles and responsibilities, that if you’re like many managers, you’re are unsure of where to start when it comes to your CHW program and how to train your staff as CHWs.

CHWs are an important link between your agency and the community–now more so than ever. Bringing new hires up to speed should be as steady as a healthy heart, but that’s easier said than done. Some of the most common symptoms of an under-trained CHW team include confusion among a multidisciplinary team, CHWs not sure where they fit in, and friction or frustration among your staff.

Your CHWs can contribute to the success of a community-focused program as long as they’re trained to do their jobs according to standardized core competencies. CHW workforce training should be opened up to your staff and also their supervisors. This is often a foundation of online or on-site classes followed up by on-the-job practice.

Unfortunately, some agencies devalue the work CHWs do, so they skim over training as an unnecessary expense. They tap program managers, supervisors, or other employees to do quick orientations. That’s helpful, and certainly a valuable part of the bigger position, but not enough on its own.

Ensuring that your team has the tools to perform their job starts with considering the varying levels of experience and your CHWs’ backgrounds when it comes to ongoing training. Individual state requirements and different community needs are also key in a successful training program.

Lack of CHW Training Sets You Back

Community health workers (or promotores de salud) have a specific function within your agency and program, and they need to know exactly what’s expected of them. Without clear guidance, they’re set up to fail.

Some reasons why your CHWs may be struggling and need training:

  • They’re confused about their job and don’t know how to ask for training
  • They feel nervous or embarrassed about asking supervisors for job training
  • They react defensively to training support, especially if they feel they already know all there is to know
  • Overwhelmed supervisors are juggling multiple job duties to balance the gaps

Unfortunately, CHWs are often considered to be at the bottom of the agency hierarchy and as such, they’re the last person to be consulted when it comes to planning — or skipping — training plans.

In healthcare, the consequences of neglecting a core training plan are costly. At best, internal staff is confused, and that piles onto your heap of management duties. At worst, clients and patients might not get the care they need.

So what do you do if you have a team that needs core competency training but don’t know where to start? Lucky for you, this problem has already been solved. Read on.

7-Step Plan to Strong Core Competencies

  1. Give CHWs a detailed job description.
  2. Find gaps.
  3. Document obsessively.
  4. Set time on the calendar for training and check-ins.
  5. Set up ongoing training.
  6. Don’t skimp on the training budget.
  7. Ask an expert to help you with your training plan.

1. Define CHWs Roles with a Clear Job Description.

The first mistake many managers make when hiring new staff is failing to provide a clear job description.

Successful onboarding begins with a clear scope of work. In order to excel at their job, your CHW needs to know exactly what’s expected of them.

To get started, create an overview of the job in writing, and a bulleted list of what each duty is. It can be helpful to create a job workflow to think of all possible tasks and how they’re implemented.

If you’re at a loss, you could always start with something like Integrating Community Health Workers into Primary Care Practice from the National Health Care for the Homeless Council.

A clear role description and example workflows give your new hire the tools they need for a successful career from the start.

2. Find Gaps in Your Team’s Training or Experience.

Most agencies have at least some kind of internal training, and many have strengths in core competency areas like service coordination or ethics. Document what those training strengths are and then look for the weaknesses. Those gaps will tell you where you need to build out a comprehensive core competency training program.

On the flip side, take your new hires as an opportunity to evaluate company-wide gaps and overlaps. With a bird’s eye view of your team’s skills versus the program needs, you’ll likely find talent that’s being misused and areas that are lacking attention.

If you’re looking for a list of competencies, read Most Important Job Skills To Build a CHW Career Path.















3. Document successful processes, workflows, and resources.

In order to evolve as a leader and improve your organization, it’s important to document what works — and most importantly, what doesn’t work — within the needs of your program.

Setting up systems like templates, documented workflows that are easy to follow, and SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) prevents you from making the same mistakes and helps cut down decision making when it comes to getting stuff done.

The best part? You don’t have to do it yourself. Have your team document the processes and tools they use as they work to make compiling resources easy.

4. Set time on the calendar for training and check-ins.

Many unsuccessful training programs fail because there’s no urgency to complete or allotted time.

You can solve both problems by setting a training framework, including:

  • Set up one-on-one times with you or a job peer to ask questions
  • Allow staff one day or afternoon a week just for training
  • Expand weekly training allowances include what CHWs/Ps should be learning all year.

Bonus points for setting your own CHW training goals and making it a habit to keep track of progress.

5. Set up ongoing training.

Training isn’t a one-and-done event. It’s iterative and goes on to address the needs of clients, patients, and health trends.

Stay on top of your game and implement a continuous learning strategy so you can help your staff always be aware of changes in guidelines and new skills.

6. Don’t Skimp on the Training Budget.

When you’re figuring out how much to budget for your annual training plan, think about all the staff that should and can be trained under the same umbrella. CHWs/Ps need set courses for core competencies, but those courses can also be helpful for other staff or that might support other programs. That will help define where funding comes from and how much you can get from your investment.

Deciphering the true costs of online training is a complicated task that can easily reach beyond the boundaries of any grant or budget line item. Broaden your search to dig up all the costs you and your colleagues might be feeding into training–and identify ways to trim.

Your agency will set the training budget that fits, but make sure you have enough resources so you can do it right.

7. Ask an Expert to Help You with Your Training Plan.

Successful CHW training covers core competencies and many other nuances of client and patient care you might not have considered. For example, a breast cancer screening course is better implemented with an outreach skills course.

An expert can take into consideration all your agency’s needs and strengths and make recommendations. The expert might be a partner agency, someone who set up a CHW training program at a different agency, or one of CHWTraining’s education consultants.

When a CHW/P core competency plan is set and your team successfully completes it, everyone profits. Give your staff a chance to succeed, and your agency and community will benefit from a strong core.

Originally published July 10, 2020, updated February 26, 2021

Photo by Kampus Production from Pexels

Online CHW training tools - African American woman in front of a computer

These Are the New Job Skills CHWs Need Right Now

Everyone’s job is different nowadays. This means community health workers need an updated list of job skills. Everything you thought you knew about jobs for any kind of health worker is up for re-analyzing. That includes how people learn (remotely) to what they learn (cultural competency) and where they use those skills (phone vs. someone’s kitchen).

The future of healthcare focused on community members is still changing. How this workforce will look in years to come is still unclear. What is clear is that the skills CHWs, promotores, case managers, and others need to evolve too.

What those jobs look like already demands a new and improved batch of competencies that have been adapted to this world’s structure. These new skills will make it easier for community-focused healthcare to meet virtually. They will incorporate ways of managing stress and sharing those techniques with clients. They’ll include more ways to stretch care to people who have worse health outcomes than the people around them.

Whatever the new “normal” will be, here’s what’s clear about the new era of being a CHW.

New Job Skills for CHWs

Remote Learning Skills

“Remote” is a term that has new meaning for everyone. Now, it’s the way we define being together and apart at the same time.

The definition of being together remotely now includes learning together online. This is a given for anyone who wants to enter the CHW workforce and needs to build up core skills or for managers who need for their staff to adapt. Employees have a host of options for CHW core competencies that they can pick up from home or in their own time at work.

Learning remotely includes a variety of sub-skills that make it easier to succeed. These skills are also fundamental to a career in public health and working with clients.

  • Effective listening
  • Communication skills
  • Critical thinking
  • Resilience

System Navigation and Care Coordination

CHWs need to double-down on learning how develop and improve care coordination and system navigation skills to support clients in complex health environments.

Care coordination is an effective and significant part of high-quality and safe healthcare delivery. It is a critical skill that allows agencies to combine and share information among teams, organizations, and facilities whose services your client needs. This skill, paired with system navigation, is essential to coordinate care among many providers and agencies. It’s also a natural partner with building outreach skills.

These days, more clients are likely to fall into the definition of having complex health conditions. Agencies need to target clients and patients who are at the highest risk of serious illness and mortality if they get COVID-19. Identifying which clients have chronic illnesses or who are older is a care coordination activity that’s vital for CHWs.

Cultural Competency

Understanding the ways people interact with others with respect, empathy and curiosity has always been a cornerstone of what a CHW does. The last two years have revealed to everyone across the world the concept of cross-cultural competency and how that can affect a person’s wellbeing.

Training in cultural competency (for CHWs or any other member of a healthcare team) includes information on the various cultural groups learners may encounter in their work and how to recognize and demonstrate understanding of cultural differences. Training should introduce CLAS standards and provide practical tips on communication techniques, recognizing and working against stereotypes, and building trust among all people.

Here are key objectives for cultural competency training:

  • Understand the role culture plays in a person’s health, including behaviors, language, customs, beliefs, and perspectives
  • Learn culturally appropriate and respectful ways of communicating, including effective listening
  • Use empathy to connect with people who come from various backgrounds
  • Deliver health care services that meet the social, cultural, and linguistic needs of patients to avoid health disparities
  • Build relationships with partners and colleagues to deliver culturally and linguistically appropriate services
  • Increase such skills as emotional intelligence and critical thinking

Chronic Illness or Health-Specific Focus

Knowing the basics is just a beginning for CHWs. Once they have foundational training, they should move on to a specialization in a chronic illness or health-specific focus. People who utilize ERs the most often frequently have chronic illnesses, such as asthma or high blood pressure (hypertension).

Including training in chronic disease or other health area, such as oral health, can have a huge impact.

For example, a CHW’s impact on women with breast or cervical cancer or at high risk is broad. CHWs have a knack for making paths through hard-to-reach areas and populations. They’re powerful allies in the battle against breast cancer, especially in underserved communities, where they live, work, or understand deeply.

They can …

  • connect people directly with providers for treatment or screening,
  • give clients and patients resources about disease management,
  • bust myths about breast cancer (no, mammograms don’t cause cancer) and provide other education about lowering risk,
  • advise on health insurance and financial assistance, and
  • be there just to listen and provide social support.

Organizational Skills

Organizational skills are always important for the sometimes chaotic job of CHW. But they’re especially important now when CHWs are tasked with building up all the skills previously listed. Being able to prioritize, manage time, work well with a multidisciplinary team, and work with documentation systems are necessary.

When CHWs are organized, they can do their job in a timely, effective, and culturally competent manner.

One important sub-skill is establishing boundaries with clients and coworkers now that so many people are working from home. Some tips for this:

  • Create a work-only zone. This could be a home office, a table that’s folded and put away at the end of the day, or another area of the house that a staffer can leave when work is over.
  • Take control of a work schedule. This helps reinforce the work-only zone. This also means creating a schedule that allows for meetings with a multidisciplinary team, client follow-ups, and best working times.
  • Improve communication skills. Communicating effectively with teammates and staff will make remote working go that much more smoothly.

Self-care

Giving priority to self-care is now more important than ever—for managers, CHWs and clients.

Managers and supervisors need to prioritize their own self-care so they can be the reliable leaders their staff need. CHWs need to set limits and find ways to release so they don’t face burnout. Clients likely have multiple stressors that can combine to make all their illnesses worse and lower their immune systems.

Relaxation and mindfulness are skills that can help you in your personal and professional life—especially now when everything feels uncertain. Mindfulness practices can help people manage stress, deal with serious illness, and reduce anxiety and depression, according to the NIH. These are helpful skills to pass on to clients, employees, and the people around you.

Nearly everyone is feeling depression, anxiety, and stress right now, so it helps you and anyone you work with if you can pick up management skills. Start by recognizing the symptoms of depression from the National Institute of Mental Health.

Then what to do if you see them in yourself or in another. This guide will help you understand when it’s time to make a behavioral health referral.

Supervisors and program managers supporting a community health team with limited resources can easily feel overwhelmed. You have to think about self-care strategies to share, how to help them control stress, and spot signs of burnout and compassion fatigue.

Ongoing Learning

Learning is a continuum for CHWs and supervisors, and building these new skills are ongoing, even when the pandemic is over. Keep these skills sharp, and you’ll have happier staff who can improve health outcomes now and on into the future.

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

Most Popular CHW Training Courses in 2020

By Eliana Ifill

Community health programs were in a “Ready? Set? Sit still!” mode in 2020. While the need for community health workers and promotores (CHWs/Ps) was clear. However, many were sent home to wait until they could head out and help clients again. And in some cases, many more clients than the year before.

Online learning for CHWs/Ps has never been more necessary.

Working from Home

As communities still go in and out of stay-at-home orders and as health agencies and programs rush to hire more CHWs/Ps, CHWTraining has seen a dramatic uptick in people learning from home. Program managers, supervisors, and program coordinators want to make use of their staff’s time while they’re remote.

Remote learning makes sense. It’s a positive thing for health teams to do while building skills that will be useful into the future–and well into each person’s career.

CHWTraining has seen some trends—some surprising, some not—in popular courses and subject areas. Here’s a round-up of what’s been the most popular this year. We also offer what we think it says about training for public and community health teams.

Care Coordination and System Navigation

One of the most important roles of a CHW or care coordinator is to help members of the community access the care they need to sustain a healthy life. Interest in Care Coordination and System Navigation spiked last year. Partly that’s because it’s central to the core competencies of CHWs and promotores, and it also provides essential skills for working with clients who have a new set of needs in a pandemic.

Managers reported a need for skills like:

  • knowing how to navigate health insurance
  • helping service providers collaborate in supporting communities
  • developing and implementing care plans for patients, and
  • connecting patients to the resources they need.

Cultural Competency

The year 2020 was about the coronavirus pandemic, and it was also about racial equality. Many organizations looked at the gaping health inequity in healthcare and decided to do something about it. Agencies made a move toward improving their internal cultural competency and reducing unintended bias.

CHWs often work with under-served groups such as immigrant communities and diverse races. It’s important for them to understand the nuances of cultural differences and help advocate for proper care. This includes such topics as language barriers, cultural sensitivities like religious beliefs, and translating healthy behaviors into culturally appropriate equivalents. A deep understanding of health disparities is also key in the work of CHWs.

Community Outreach and Engagement

The challenges in community engagement with closures and physical distancing has caused many agencies to double-down on their outreach skills. These skills are increasingly important especially when so many men and women have been skipping their regular preventative care screenings. Now is also a good time to know more about how to provide health education about vaccinations.

Successful CHW programs need to reach the population they serve. Community outreach and engagement means bringing the programs and services to the community. It also means ensuring that people understand how the programs and services can make their lives better.

Managers were looking for ways to build strong outreach strategies in their teams. These strategies include:

  • multiple touch points such as traditional media (newspapers, TV stations, and more),
  • many more phone calls than before, and
  • online platforms such as social media.

Breast Cancer Screening

Breast cancer is the second most common type of cancer for women in the US, second only to skin cancer. Scientific advances in genetics and genomics have revolutionized the way breast cancer is detected and treated. It’s more important now than ever to help at-risk women–especially those who have limited access to care–to understand their risk and take steps to prevent this disease.

However, breast cancer screening tests, such as mammograms, ultrasounds, and MRIs, were put on hold as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some estimates report reductions in screenings of more than 90%.

In 2020, CHW program managers wanted education in how to educate women about the benefits of routine screenings. They also wanted to help clients understand when, how and what type of testing they require based on family history, medical history, age, and other determinants. A focus on accessing the care they need for successful prevention and/or treatment was in high demand.

CHWTraining Opens New Course on Breast Cancer Screening for 2020

 

Cervical Cancer and HPV

Screenings for cervical cancer and HPV vaccinations were also dramatically reduced in 2020. Many programs increased outreach in this area.

CHWTraining saw a jump in interest of all kinds of cervical cancer information, like symptoms, risk factors, screening tests, diagnosis, and treatment, and how CHWs can help prevent this disease.

Spreading basic information such as that cervical cancer is highly preventable in most developed nations helps. Programs also wanted to know how to reach people who live in rural areas. Likewise reaching those with a low socioeconomic background, including women of color.

CHWTraining Adds “Cervical Cancer and HPV” to its Chronic Illness Online Course Library

Behavioral Health

Mental health became a daily issue for millions in 2020 in a web of illness, unemployment, childcare, isolation and imminent health risks, food and housing insecurity, domestic abuse and more. Add daily stressors and the results are clear: Depression and anxiety are skyrocketing.

Last year was a big one for courses related to behavioral health, including depression, anxiety, substance use, and mental illness. Enrollment in courses where CHWs could learn to identify risk factors, make referrals, and provide support boomed as a valuable skill to help communities thrive in the midst of uncertainty.

Promoting Healthy Lifestyles

One of the most important things CHWs can do is encourage community members to prevent disease. This can be achieved by educating peers on habits such as eating well, physical activity, preventative care, and behavioral health.

Some of the most popular courses of the year had to do with HEAL programs and other ways of Promoting Healthy Lifestyles. The focus was on giving community members could have an understanding of the concepts behind implementing positive changes and sustaining a healthy life.

High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure, or hypertension, affects nearly a third of adults in the US. What’s worse, suffering from high blood pressure predisposes patients to stroke, heart disease, and other complications.

Knowing that people with hypertension are at a risk of a more serious outcome of COVID sent more programs to essential training in this area. Here’s a checklist of the best educational skills for a heart healthy program.

With lifestyle modifications and the right care, high blood pressure is preventable. It can even be reversed with proper care, including nutrition, adequate management with medication, and physical activity. CHWs are essential in helping patients navigate this condition to improve their health outcomes and prevent serious complications later on.

Diabetes and Prediabetes

Community health programs wanted foundational training in diabetes last year–as every year. Diabetes is a growing concern. Between 2010 and 2020, the number of people with diabetes in the US went from four million to over 29 million–a 700% increase.

Programs wanted online learning in understanding this condition and patients’ needs so they’re better equipped to help connect them to the best resources.

Like hypertension, people with diabetes are at a higher risk of poor health outcomes with the coronavirus. And many more people are at risk.

It’s common for early stages of diabetes to go undetected. But with the right help, patients can lead healthy, normal lives with this condition.

Communication Skills

Communication Skills is always one of the top courses at CHWTraining. It’s a core competency because CHWs are in contact with lots of people in different roles. Not to mention patients themselves.

It’s important to develop the right skills to effectively communicate with healthcare workers, program coordinators, insurance agents, and more. This training helps learners advocate for patients and clients to receive the assistance they need.

The most in-demand communication skills include:

  • active listening,
  • using layman’s terms (including for describing medical terms),
  • building rapport,
  • nonverbal communication,
  • resolving and avoiding conflict,
  • and being able to understand and work within culturally diverse communities.
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

 

Top 10 Articles in 2020 – Career Development, Core Competencies, Outreach Skills Roles of CHWs, and More

CHWs have the power to bring health care to underserved communities nationwide. As a CHW, your peers rely on you to get access to the help they need, the resources to improve their life quality, and the tools to improve their health outcomes.

Whether you’re looking to start your career as a CHW or are part of an established program, at CHWTraining we’ve collected readers’ favorite pieces of 2020 to help you serve your community:

Community Engagement the Right Way with Outreach Skills Improving your community’s health begins with outreach. After all, they need to know that you’re available to help. Learn the four key steps to safe community outreach – even during COVID.

3 Powerful Communication Skills That Build Rapport The main difference between a CHW and other healthcare professionals is their ability to connect with patients on a deeper level. As a CHW, you can have a positive impact on your community by establishing rapport with the help of these 3 powerful communication skills.

Top CHW Conferences of 2020 Looking to learn more about CHWs and their key role in public health? It’s not too late! Sign up for the top 2020 CHW conferences on-demand.

Roles and Responsibilities of a CHW Career [Free Event] Curious about how to start a CHW career and what it means to bring CHWs to your organization? Check out this webinar on-demand to learn exactly what it means to be a CHW (or to hire one!).

Top 5 Ways To Assess CHW Skills and Core Competencies Use this article as a resources guide to assess your new and existing CHWs and plan your CHW training in 2021.

12 Skills To Build a CHW Career Interested in becoming a CHW or planning for a long-term career in public health? Find the top health and development skills and core competencies you need to train for a successful CHW career path.

The Definitive Guide to the Coronavirus for CHWs Stay safe, learn to navigate COVID uncertainty and put your patients at ease with this comprehensive COVID guide (updated in December 2020).

Your Agency Needs Training for Food Insecurity Did you know that an estimated 1 in 9 Americans struggle with food insecurity at some point in the year? Food insecurity is one of the leading causes of diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and obesity. Learn about what food insecurity means, how COVID has made it worse, and what your agency can do to help fight it in 2021.

9 Essential Skills for a Food Insecurity Screening Program Find out what skills your team needs to help communities fight off food insecurity through the pandemic and beyond.

3 Steps To Advance a CHW Career Secure a long, successful career as a Community Health Worker or advance into other roles within the public health system with these simple steps.

Photo by Johen Redman on Unsplash

 

Community Health Worker Career Paths: How to Hire and Support Your Team

As your team of community health workers (CHWs) scales, it’s important to understand how the field will grow into the future so you can create a community health worker career path for your staff.

The CHW job title is relatively new in the US compared with other job titles, such as care coordinators, case managers, or even promotores. A clear career ladder can be hard to see with new job positions like this. Plus, the CHW job has a high burnout rate, so many people who have been working in the job opt to move into a less demanding position, sometimes in healthcare and sometimes not.

Read Now: CHW Training – Building a Career Path [Resource Guide]

CHWs will move on to new positions, some will get promoted into new jobs, and new people will want to enter the field and join your team. It’s helpful for agencies like yours to understand where and how to recruit or train for community health services careers. It’s also important to know how to encourage career growth along a rewarding path for employees who are more experienced in the field.

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 Core Competencies Resource Guide

Creating a CHW Career Foundation

CHWs, as those in any field, need certain background experiences, skills, and knowledge to be successful. Some of these are soft skills that make a person well-suited to the job and some are hard skills that are part of a CHW core competencies program.

These are some of the skills you might review as a hiring managers or CHW supervisor:

Soft Skills for Community Health Workers

  • Being friendly and open
  • Having empathy
  • Active-listening skills
  • Respect and non-judgmental attitudes
  • Good verbal communication
  • Sensitive to challenging experiences

Hard Skills (Core Competencies) for Community Health Workers

  • 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

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 completed training requirements. You can read more about requirements where you are to get a feel for how these core competencies change.

Some people favor jobs more because of their personal attributes. Others look for ways to gather core skills and then build on to them to earn a professional specialty. Managers like you should think about who the individual is and what their tendency is when you’re hiring and creating a career path at your agency.

Below, read some CHW job progressions, specific roles, responsibilities, and it all fits into a CHW career path.

How Can You Provide a CHW Career Path?

Creating a career path for your CHWs helps you recruit qualified workers and also helps you hold on to them when they decide they’d like to expand from their entry role. This will prevent them from being hired away by a new organization or out of your department.

One of the best ways that you can grow your career in customer service is by understanding the different roles that are out there and developing skills that align with them. Here’s an example of the most common positions you’ll find along a customer service role progression:

CHW Career Growth
Community Health Worker Career Path

 

Entry-Level: CHW, Promotores, or CHRs

CHWs are on the front line, working directly with clients or patients and responding to their needs. Training requirements depend on individual employers and state requirements, but it usually takes around two years to be a certified CHW.

A person’s decision to stay in a CHW role doesn’t need to be short-term. You can encourage your CHWs to enter as a CHW and stay a CHW for many years. Make sure stakeholders have adequate funding that builds a long-lasting program.

Why might CHWs decide to stay a CHW?

  • They have meaningful relationships with their clients
  • They’ve invested in and developed a deep understanding of the community and resources
  • They’re included in programs that they help build, launch and maintain
  • You offer recognition for achievements
  • You supply bonuses and pay increases to make sure CHWs feel rewarded.

Mid-Level: Health Advocates, Care Coordinators, CNAs, Health Educators

The next step require some specialization or extra training. They still work one-on-one with clients and patients, but they may have some additional subject-matter expertise that helps them handle more specific patient requirements or work in more clinical settings.

CHWs can move into a role with more specialization. Health advocates, care coordinators, case managers and CNAs who’ve been trained as CHWs work better with an organization and patients to find and deliver care.

Managerial: CHW Supervisors, Managers, Social Workers, Nurses

These mid-level or managerial positions serve as team leads in an agency. They supervise CHWs as well as work with their own clients or patients. However, more of their working day is put toward administration and working with a larger multi-disciplinary team.

Some CHWs will take a job with more leadership potential where they offer training, mentorship, and advice to their peers. A pathway might look like this:

  1. Entry-level CHW: works with patients
  2. Senior CHW: works with patients, mentors new hires
  3. CHW Supervisor: works with staff, hires, works closely with partners

A CHW from there may grow to be someone with less direct content with clients and patients and more program or team management.

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