Community health workers (CHWs) play a vital role in improving healthcare access and outcomes in underserved communities. That part is clear and simple.
Coordinating community resources and increasing capacity through CHWs can also boost your agency’s reputation and reach in an area. Once you’ve established this, your program will begin to grow on its own strengths.
However, not so clear and simple is recruiting and retaining CHWs, which can be a challenge.
In this article, we’ll explore proven strategies to help you build a strong team of dedicated CHWs who are committed to improving the health of their communities.
Shortage of CHWs
The US has a shortage of health care professionals. That’s especially true in rural and underserved communities, which often where CHWs work.
For example, in 2019 according to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the US had nearly 20,000 fewer doctors than required to meet our health care needs.
And that’s expected to get worse. One study shows that the deficit could grow as high as 124,000 by 2034.
On the government level, there’s some welcome activity that’s aimed at boosting the number of CHWs around the US. Significantly, President Biden awarded $225 million in training grants aimed at CHWs.
Meanwhile, there’s still an immediate need for candidates. And if you’re looking to add them to your team, you’ve felt this.
Job Responsibilities of a CHW
Before you think about where you’ll recruit your next CHW, think about what they’ll be doing on the job.
A CHW’s responsibilities vary depending on the community they serve. Basic duties include:
- Facilitate access to healthcare services. This can look like coordinating transit, helping navigate health insurance, offering language services, and other similar tasks
- Assist in disease prevention. Tasks such as helping make the home a healthy environment for those with chronic illnesses (like asthma). They can also educate their peers about healthy living and encourage the population to get regular screenings
- Advocate for the needs of the community they serve. This includes opening and maintaining communication with local healthcare providers
- Organize local outreach programs to raise awareness about the existence of the initiative, as this makes it possible for everyone to access the services they need
- Collect health data from a population and report to healthcare officials
Look at this list of soft skills CHWs should have so you can take that into account with your new hires too.
CHW Training Bundle
Kickstart your health program with these resources.
Recruiting Community Health Workers
In many cases, recruitment should start with the groups where a CHW will be working. The key is CHWs need to come from the community. The more connected community members feel to the people supporting their health, the more likely they are to take charge of their health and live a better life.
The next step in your recruitment journey is to think about how they’re funded and their employment status. Is your CHW a volunteer or a paid staff? Are they working seasonally? Some agencies employ CHWs during times when food insecurity is at its highest or in line with an initiative such as breast cancer awareness. Do they work full or part time? Does your grant have constraints that may affect them? All of these questions matter when you’re looking to hire because they’ll reflect on the expertise you need.
Partner with local organizations and community leaders.
Partnering with local organizations and community leaders can be a great way to recruit CHWs. These organizations and leaders often have established relationships with community members and can help spread the word about your CHW program. Consider partnering with churches, schools, community centers, and other organizations that are active in your community. You can also reach out to local leaders, such as city council members or neighborhood association presidents, to help promote your program and recruit CHWs.
Word of mouth can be one of the easiest and fastest ways to recruit for almost any position. Simply asking the reliable people who you already know if they can recommend someone to fit the CHW job description can uncover excellent candidates.
Word-of-mouth hiring has some drawbacks, however. It closes the circle of new talent to people who might be similar to who you’re already employing. There’s also research that says employee referrals can restrict diversity.
Since you’re looking for people to work in the communities you serve, ask those communities for referrals. Interview community leaders to identify people who are caring and good connectors because they can make great community health workers.
Talk to people from faith-based organizations
Ask storekeepers, beauticians, teachers, and barbers for contacts
Put the word out to local nonprofits that have similar goals of supporting the community. Focus on those community-based organizations that have an established reputation
Attend community events, such as health fairs, sporting events or others, and make connections with leaders.
Use social media and online job boards to reach a wider audience.
In today’s digital age, social media and online job boards are powerful tools for recruiting CHWs. Consider creating a social media campaign to promote your job openings and reach a wider audience. You can also post your job openings on popular job boards or job banks like Indeed, LinkedIn, and Glassdoor. Make sure to include detailed job descriptions and qualifications, as well as information about your organization and the benefits of working as a CHW. Don’t forget to engage with potential candidates and respond to any questions or comments they may have.
Check with educational agencies, such as CHWTraining, government programs, or local community colleges. Speak with administrators for referrals and to send your job ad. And remember employment offices and social services offices.
Remember CHW associations. Your local CHW association undoubtedly has a roster of names you can tap into. It’s helpful to implement a strategy for recruiting from associations so you can target your search rather than simply blanketing every member with a help-wanted ad.
Workforce development agencies, including job placement programs for groups such as the formerly incarcerated, can be a big help.
Here are some tips from Monster.com for being a savvy association recruiter:
- Industry knowledge: Reads association newsletters and journals to stay abreast of industry happenings as well as future trends.
- Contacts: Cull key names from journal articles to use as sources for candidates, for search assignments, or simply as networking contacts.
- Local presence: attend local meetings monthly and regional meetings occasionally.
Attend job fairs and community events to connect with potential candidates.
Job fairs and community events are great opportunities to connect with potential CHW candidates in person. Look for events that are relevant to your target audience, such as health fairs, community festivals, and career fairs. Set up a booth or table with information about your organization and the CHW role, and be prepared to answer questions and provide more information. You can also consider hosting your own recruitment event, such as an open house or information session, to attract potential candidates and showcase your organization.
Offer competitive compensation and benefits.
One of the most important factors in recruiting CHWs is offering competitive compensation and benefits. CHWs often work in low-income communities and may have limited access to healthcare and other resources. Offering a fair wage and benefits such as health insurance, paid time off, and retirement plans can make your program more attractive to potential CHWs. Additionally, offering opportunities for professional development and advancement can help retain CHWs and build a strong team.
Provide training and professional development opportunities.
CHWs are often the first point of contact for individuals seeking healthcare in their community. Providing them with ongoing training and professional development opportunities can help them stay up-to-date on the latest healthcare practices and technologies. This can not only improve the quality of care they provide but also increase their job satisfaction and retention. Consider offering regular training sessions, workshops, and conferences, as well as opportunities for CHWs to pursue advanced certifications or degrees.
Read more about the advantages of online learning for CHWs.
Next Step: Interviewing CHWs
When you have a list of candidates, it’s time to move on to the interviewing phase. Look at How To Hire a Community Health Worker – Interview Guide for tips on how to prepare for interviewing your next CHW. We’ve listed essential skills for CHWs, what to look for during the interview process, and the top 20 questions to ask your next CHW.