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Soft skills for CHWs

7 Must-have Softs Skills for CHWs in 2021

Imagine that person you’ve worked with who seems to have mastered their job. It’s that community health worker (CHW), promotor, or health navigator who seems to know all the community partners, who can cut through red tape, who can connect with coworkers and clients in a meaningful way. It’s that person that everyone just seems to really like.

Maybe their secret is because they’re extremely nice. Some people, especially those who work in community health, are that way. Or, more likely, these CHWs have a carefully crafted set of soft skills.

→ Click here to download a guide to CHW core competency requirements in every state [Free Guide].

The core competency skills that all CHWs need, such as organizational skills or advocacy, are much easier to research and provide. In fact, you can read a list of what those competencies are and the sub-skills included in them right here.

But what about soft skills for CHW candidates? These are also important skills for CHWs — as well as any employee or volunteer — and they should be at the top of the talents you’re looking for in your applicants or to put on your own resume.

What are soft skills?

Soft skills are a mix of traits, behaviors, and attitudes that make it easier to get along with others and work effectively with others. They’re also important to any health worker job, including for CHWs, in which building rapport with clients is central.

Hard skills, on the other hand, are generally easier to identify and build in yourself or your staff. Examples of hard or technical skills are:

  • Organizational skills, such as scheduling appointments with clients and patients
  • Reading vital signs, such as measuring blood pressure
  • Documentation skills, like note-taking or updating client records

Building soft skills in CHWs

Hard skills like those listed above are straightforward to teach. They’re clearly measured and defined for a job.

Some people seem to be born with good soft skills. They don’t necessarily need extra support to do what they’re already good at. But soft skills can also be developed. If you’re a supervisor, you can also learn to look for them and train your team in them. Soft skills are the ones that make up a career.

7 soft skills for community health workers’ careers

Examples of soft skills that are important for CHWs in healthcare and community settings are:

Communication

Strong communication is one of the core skills of healthcare workers, including health promotors (promotores de salud), CHWs, peer educators, and those in similar roles.

Communication skills help CHWs build rapport with their clients and make it easier to serve as a liaison in challenging settings, such as navigating insurance, accessing care for their patients, keeping their community informed, and handing them the tools they need to make healthy choices and improve health outcomes.

Communication skills for CHWs include:

  • Conflict resolution: Ability to avoid or resolve conflicts
  • Cultural understanding: Understanding and connecting in culturally diverse settings
  • Nonverbal communication: Including perceiving patients’ cues and concerns

Empathy and compassion

CHWs have a leg up in community care because they can connect deeply with the population they serve. Part of this connection comes from a shared background.

As a CHW, approaching patients from a place of empathy and compassion that comes with understanding the cultural context of patients’ conditions adds an extra layer of care to the service. In turn, this creates a safe space where patients can voice their concerns knowing they’ll receive respect and consideration.

Emotional resilience

Feeling overwhelmed by emotions and chronic stress are among the biggest causes of burnout for healthcare workers. Add bureaucratic challenges, overflowing desks, and patients at critical risk and it’s important that staff have adequate coping skills. Emotional well-being is key in job satisfaction and success but often overlooked.

For CHWs, emotional resilience means being able to adapt to daily stressors and juggle multiple situations without falling prey to despair and frustration.

Learn more about how to avoid burnout among CHW teams here.

Ethics

One of the most important soft skills for CHWs is strong ethical behavior. As part of the healthcare system, CHWs must adhere to strong ethical values in their career, including:

  • Honesty: As a healthcare professional, the CHW must be transparent in the services they offer to guarantee the best possible outcome for patients.
  • Confidentiality: In any health setting, a patient will be more likely to cooperate if they can trust that anything they share will be kept private between them and the provider. Confidentiality is a central part of the code of ethics for CHWs and is required by law and employers.
  • Transparency: Being upfront about training, certificates, and other qualifications is key in any CHWs career.
  • Quality: CHWs must commit to providing the best possible service within their scope of work to every patient or client.
  • Safety: In high-risk situations, CHWs must communicate with the necessary authorities and follow state or local requirements in order to prevent harm to their patients.

Adaptability, flexibility, and stability

In an ever-changing field such as the healthcare industry, swiftly adapting to rising challenges and patient needs is a key for a successful CHW career.

Being flexible within the ethical boundaries of the profession implies alternative solutions to complex situations, providing resources, and walking unexpected paths to meet patients’ needs in the best possible way.

Active listening

As a CHW, a big part of the job responsibilities is understanding the community in order to help them thrive. This starts with observing the background or context — and most importantly, truly listening to what they have to say to get a comprehensive view of what the population’s needs are.

5 ways to improve listening skills:

  1. Make eye contact.
  2. Give the person you’re talking to enough time to talk — don’t cut them off mid-sentence.
  3. Show respect by never making clients feel rushed when they are with you.
  4. Maintain professionalism while being approachable at the same time.
  5. Ask open-ended questions designed to gather information.

Teamwork

The ability to work well with others is another important soft skill. CHWs should be able to function as part of a multidisciplinary healthcare team.

Establishing trust with peers and supervisors, being able to communicate openly and respectfully, and collaborating effectively is key to provide patients with a smooth healthcare service across educational services, preventive screenings, and care coordination.

Great teamwork skills can include any of the above skills.

How to train your team as CHWs with core competencies

Job fairs are often a great place to find work for CHWs

Where Do CHWs Work?

The number of community health workers nationally is on the rise. Many agencies have discovered that these community health specialists are the key to reaching people who are often left out of traditional healthcare. And program directors are eager to have CHWs work in their teams.

The positive results of working with CHWs—and promotores, health advisors, community care managers, and similar—are clear. A recent study shows that working with a team of CHWs can lower emergency department visits (5%), drop hospitalizations (12.6%), and add up to a net savings of $1,135 per patient. The study showed that each CHW generated a net savings of $170,213 every year.

It’s no wonder why you’d like to hire a CHW or cross-train your internal team to be CHWs in this growing field. But you might be wondering where CHWs work, and if they’d be a good match for your organization. You might want to improve the health outcomes of your community no matter if you work in a clinic, a neighborhood, or a faith-based group. Do CHWs fit there?

The short answer is, “Yes!” CHWs anywhere have a similar role to link people with health and social services to improve the quality of care, but they work in many settings. They work wherever they live, including in rural areas, urban settings, and major metropolitan hubs. They work in borders and tribal communities in AI/AN nations. The most common employers of CHWs according to the BLS are:

Employer Percentage
Government 18%
Individual and family services 17
Religious, grantmaking, civic, professional, and similar organizations 14
Hospitals; state, local, and private 8
Outpatient care centers 8

Keep reading to learn seven specific work environments where CHWs are often employed.

7 Places Where CHWs Work

  1. State and local governments
  2. Clinics and hospitals
  3. Outpatient care centers
  4. Insurance companies
  5. Nursing care facilities
  6. Nonprofit groups
  7. Faith- and community-based groups

1. State and local governments

Many local governments (states, counties, and cities) employ CHWs. Many state governments are also responsible for creating programs and providing training so CHWs can move on to work in other areas.

Government agencies and efforts like Accountable Communities of Health (ACHs) are often dedicated to reducing the incidence of chronic health issues. They match up CHWs with prevention programs where they can be effective, particularly among low-income populations.

2. Clinics and hospitals

CHWs typically form part of the care team at clinics, hospitals, and primary care agencies. They’re assigned a client and visit them at home to coordinate clinic visits and create health management goals that promote self-management of disease and prevention.

Agencies use CHWs to help high-risk and high-needs patients. These patients sometimes go into the ER or hospital when they don’t need to. CHWs can address the social determinants of health that might be influencing them.

3. Outpatient care centers

CHWs are key team members in outpatient care centers including behavioral health centers, hospital facilities dedicated to ambulatory procedures (X-rays, testing and examinations, and more), and other non-emergency care centers.

Some of the tasks a CHW can perform at an outpatient care center include facilitate communication if there are language barriers, help patients through the check-in process (filling forms, obtaining relevant medical information), and care coordination (pre- and post-visit, including transportation arrangements and access to other resources).

4. Insurance companies

CHWs are the primary point of contact between a patient and the insurance company. They often go above and beyond providing strictly medical care to patients. They help guarantee the patients’ access to the care they need in order to improve their health outcomes. This, in turn, means lower patient-related costs for the healthcare system.

One of the main roles of CHWs in insurance companies is to help their community access medical care. CHWs can work with patients by:

  1. Advising them on healthcare and insurance plans
  2. Assisting in the signup process (forms and requirements, medical history, and beyond)
  3. Helping them access timely care

5. Nursing care facilities

CHWs are in a unique position to support patients in nursing care facilities, including elderly, those with chronic illnesses, or others needing long-term care. They share an understanding of the patient’s background in a way other healthcare workers don’t.

In a nursing home, CHWs can assist patients in securing treatment, advocating for proper care, arranging medical visits (including transportation, scheduling appointments, and even communication with the patient’s family), and functioning as caseworkers in the facility, monitoring changes and overall well being of the patient.

6. Nonprofit groups

CHWs are often employed in nonprofit groups (NGOs) as a bridge between communities and health systems and other systems of care.

Some of the tasks CHWs perform for nonprofits include community outreach, widespread screenings, vaccination coordination, peer educator services, home visits, chronic illness management, and more.

Local and international organizations rely on CHWs to reach target populations and provide the preventive care and treatment the community needs. In fact, even if you’re not familiar with CHWs, you’ve likely seen their work in low-income communities and even countries. Vaccination programs in Africa are a good example.

7. Faith- and community-based groups

The cultural background of CHWs and their community is an added bonus when it comes to serving in local initiatives. This is the case for religious groups, grassroots organizations like youth centers, and other similar initiatives.

CHWs are invaluable team members because of their closeness to the community they serve. Shared experiences, a common upbringing, and cultural sensitivity set CHWs apart and enable them to create deep bonds with their patients and clients.

These seven options are just a few of the places CHWs work. Many communities have creative projects that benefit from working with CHWs. No matter where they work, it’s a good idea to make sure your CHWs have been properly trained. Some states offer CHW certification, and there is a consensus of core competencies in most areas.

CHW Core Competency Training

Image credit: GHFP-II participates in the Peace Corps RPCV Career Fair in Washington, DC. Christine Deloff, of GHFP-II Recruitment is an RPCV herself.

CHW Training Guide for Directors and Managers: Building a CHW Program Online

Health systems and public health agencies looking to have a positive impact on community members are building—or thinking about building—a community health worker program. A program for CHWs (or promotores, health navigators, or people with similar titles) can be an important strategy for reaching out to the millions of people who need it most. It’s a relatively accessible way to address the vast health inequalities in America. But when they’re forced to move CHW training online, challenges arise.

Remote Learning as a CHW Training Strategy

Health agencies, systems, and state and local departments have never had so much technology at their fingertips. Training technology and online courses have developed just in time to meet the rising workforce of CHWs. As a program manager, you know it’s more than necessary to move training online, it’s also smart.

Online learning is also a logical way to train teams of all sizes while people work from home at least part-time. Workshops and conferences are either canceled or going virtual. While we all wait to go back to whatever “normal” will be, you can at least keep your program moving ahead as long as you and your team have a computer.

Here’s a resource for learning how to train your team as CHWs, if you’re looking for a deeper dive into the core competencies and workforce development.

Moving CHW training online also means you can quickly get staff up to speed on requirements and new skills exactly when you need them

Courses on immunizations, hygiene, or home visit safety can be ready for exactly when CHWs need skill refreshers or new information to deliver clients.

“The reality is that remote work cultures are on the rise as more individuals and team leadership have come to understand the value and advantages of this work structure,” says Robert Glazer, a capacity-building and leadership consultant and author of the book Elevate. He gives tips on migrating teams to work from home in a recent article.

Number of people who would like to work remotely
Image: Buffer

CHWs appreciate being able to learn online, according to the learner feedback through CHWTraining courses and our partner courses. Being able to use forum posts, for example, can keep the conversation flowing over the entire duration of a course. And many like being able to review materials whenever they want a refresher.

“I like that the forum posts were interactive,” said one health promoter who took CHWTraining’s Diabetes and Prediabetes. “They’re a good way to communicate your thoughts as the course progressed.”

The motivations for transitioning from face-to-face to online are clear. Making the leap to launch educational technology can be done gradually, all at once, or in a limited way.

So how do you know where to start when launching a CHW ed-tech program?

 

Steps to Moving CHW Training Online

1) Create a CHW Training Task Force

If you’re reading this article, you already know the value of creating a CHW training program. You may even have a supervisor who sees the value. Now take your conviction that you need to keep your CHW program moving and take it to stakeholders.

Be a cheerleader, because CHWs are still criminally under-appreciated. Agencies will happily fund programs that bring money to the health system. But they’re short-sighted about programs that save money.
phrase

Assemble a CHW training task force to help spread the word about your program and help merge CHWs into your existing structure. Include leaders from your own agency, medical establishments, the community, partners.

If you work together, you can spread the word about your program, how it will help, and you won’t be the only one working on the initiative.

2) Assess online training tools for CHWs.

Start by assessing what sorts of tools you have for online training. This makes your shift easy because the infrastructure is already there. It pays to ask around, because there may be more available to you than you think.

We regularly work with clients who share an office with others with robust and useful training tools — but no one is aware and they’re not sharing them. This happens regularly when programs rely on grants. The grant might support breast and cervical cancer screenings, but not HIV/AIDS client support. But both areas depend on outreach engagement skills, so why not share when you can?

Once you start asking around, you might find others have a full-fledged learning management system (LMS) your organization used for everything from HIPAA training to clinician training. Or you can open up your own subscription to more targeted courses through CHWTraining to others who can use it.

Expand your search for training tools to include other less-obvious resources, including:

  • Ways to have discussions (Slack, message boards, group chat)
  • Webinar technology (WebEx, Zoom, Skype)
  • Video recordings (YouTube, Vimeo, CDC)

3) Introduce blended learning in your CHW program.

A successful CHW training plan can include both online and on-field experiences. You split the difference between keeping some training in person and pushing other topics online for a blended learning strategy. Blended learning mixes the best of training delivery methods to reach a variety of learning needs and varying subject matter. A live session allows for participants to meet each other and make connections with instructors and classmates that result in better retention. It also helps in delivering material that’s better suited to in-person instruction.

For example, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s CHW and Patient Navigation Online Course includes a 10-week online element that begins and concludes with face-to-face teaching. The instructors cover such topics as communication techniques in the group. This gives participants a chance to try out newfound skills with their colleagues. Other topics, such as documentation skills, convert easily to an online format.

4) Pair CHWs in training with experienced partners.

Many states with CHW certificate programs require learners to complete some degree of field training. Even if your employer doesn’t include this requirement, hands-on experience is irreplaceable in CHW training. It’s a great idea to pair a learner with someone who has experience on the job. Set up a system where supervisors or coaches can guide recent participants through using those foundational skills on the job.

This gives your CHWs a chance to apply what they learn online to a real-life setting. The real benefit of moving courses online is that learners can revisit courses while they’re doing fieldwork. It also makes it easier to sneak in training between visits with clients or on weekends and evenings.

Moving training online does have many moving parts. But it can be manageable, save costs, and be useful for CHWs.

Originally published March 13, 2020, updated March 19, 2021.

 

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

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

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.

Heart Health Training Checklist: Does Your Team Have These Skills? [Checklist]

Heart disease is responsible for the most deaths of men, women, and people in most racial and ethnic groups around the US. People with heart conditions, such as hypertension or cardiovascular disease, have a higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19.

[Download Now: Heart Health Training Checklist]

Having a healthy heart is more important now than ever before. Luckily, people can protect themselves from heart disease and stroke in many ways. As a result, they can both reduce their risk and manage heart disease by making lifestyle changes like eating healthfully and staying physically active.

That’s why health promoters–such as community health workers, promotores (CHW/Ps), or similar job titles, are so important to healthcare agencies. They can use patient education and community outreach to improve health outcomes and avoid emergency rooms (ERs).

Heart Disease and Stroke Training for Community Health Teams

Training your team in heart health makes sense. CHW/Ps with the right skills can guide patients and clients toward preventing heart disease and stroke.

This means making sure your employees or volunteers are equipped to work directly with clients and patients to provide heart health education, find motivation for change, connect people with local resources and providers, and help to set, accomplish and maintain goals.

Some of these skills are covered in standard CHW core competencies training, but a more focused approach on cardiovascular health pays off.

Heart Health Checklist

 

Organizing Onboarding Programs

Every organization that serious about improving cardiovascular health in the community needs a training checklist to guide them when hiring new people. Making sure each hire has essential heart health training sets the tone their experience at your agency. Be organized about training at the beginning of the hiring process, or when educating an existing team to have community health skills. That way, your team perform better and make a bigger impact at work.

Some agencies train staff members by on-the-job training only. That process is certainly useful and should be part of a comprehensive training program. However, one-dimensional training leaves out a comprehensive foundation of knowledge.

Teams who learn the basics first can make better decisions and take smarter actions when they’re working with clients. They also stand to be better understood by a multidisciplinary team as part of a formal education plan.

Heart Health Training Checklist

 

Using a checklist makes the evaluation process simpler. So, we’ve created a Heart Health Training Checklist for you to download for free.

You can use this checklist to:

  1. Assess the skills of potential and new staff
  2. Evaluate the training needs of existing staff
  3. Help staff understand what they need to know in order to do their job
  4. Decide what training capacity you have internally vs. what you need to acquire from a vendor

When you use the checklist, add when the training was completed and also the date when training needs to be renewed—usually every year. Also include where the team member was trained and also an official sign-off, possibly by a director or HR manager. HR departments sometimes require a certificate of completion, so make sure your employee hands that over when they’re done.

Adapting Training to Various Teams

This checklist works for most teams that work in the role of a CHW. Here are some ideas for customizing it for different community-health oriented teams.

For Community Health Representative (CHR) Teams

  • Health disparities and social determinants of health
  • Basic anatomy/physiology
  • Community disease profiles
  • Emergency patient care

For Peer Support Specialists or Recovery Coaches

Add training in…

  • Behavioral health
  • Comorbidities and co-occurring conditions
  • Administering Naloxone

For Care Coordination Teams

Add training in…

  • Conducting community needs assessments
  • Documentation skills
  • Organizational skills
  • Service navigation
  • Telehealth

For Family Navigators

Add training in…

  • Conducting community needs assessments
  • Service navigation
  • Health disparities and social determinants of health

10 skills CHWs can learn right now—without leaving the couch

 

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

 

 

3 Steps To Advance a CHW Career

A community health worker (CHW) job is especially rewarding and it is a critical piece of a healthcare team.

It’s also a good option for a career. There are more jobs than ever in this field. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) says “overall employment of health educators and community health workers is projected to grow 13% from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations.”

→ Enroll Now: CHW Core Competencies Online Training [Certificate]

Many CHWs use their position as a career advancement opportunity that leads to other areas of healthcare. They use a solid foundation in core skills as a stepping stone to jobs up the career ladder. You can use your experience to move into leadership roles, administrators, and more.

You’ll create your own path for advancement based on the skills you start with and where you want to go. However, here’s a rough step-by-step guide that can show you what to think about and in what order as you think about moving up the CHW career ladder.

Step 1: Attend a CHW training program

The first step is to improve that baseline education with the most essential core skills training for a CHW career. Training programs usually cover core competencies, such as communication or outreach skills. They also cover some information about health-specific topics, such as heart disease, or cultural competency. Here are the 13 most common core competencies for most employers and programs.

Step 2: Get certified

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 successful training.

Here are some requirements from a handful of different states.

 

Step 3: Earn some on-the-job experience

CHWs almost always need to do some on-the-job training. Some programs, especially some very good state-sponsored programs, include this apprenticeship period as part of the program. Some employers provide it as part of being hired.

Step 4: Specialize

As a CHW, you can specialize in almost any area of medicine, from autism spectrum disorder to Alzheimer’s to asthma. You can work in a variety of settings, such as communities, hospitals, nonprofit organizations, doctor’s offices or schools, and each of these are in their own way a specialization.

These specializations are helpful in any CHW job, but they can also lay the groundwork to these kinds of positions:

  • Certified diabetes educator
  • Diabetes educator
  • Health educator
  • Certified drug & alcohol counselor

Step 5: Boost your training

CHWs often, but not always, need a high school diploma to get a job. If you’ve already entered a CHW job without a high school diploma or equivalent, this stage is a good time to get one.

Many CHW positions also require you to have a Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) credential or CPR/first aid certification. If you get these, they can open many more opportunities.

Step 6: Move up into a new position

If you’ve gone through all the previous steps, you’ve already gone a long way toward your career advancement. You might already have more options and better jobs.

You might also want to think about higher level education. Being a CHW is an excellent first step to being a…

  • medical assistant
  • nurse
  • dietitian

These jobs all require an advanced degree. So explore how training you have as a CHW can lead into an associate degree. How would that associate degree lead into a bachelor’s degree? What about a foreign language skill?

Keep working, and you’ll be able to use a CHW career as a way to keep moving up the career ladder.