What is a Community Health Worker?

A community health worker (CHW) acts as a liaison between community members and healthcare services. CHWs help to promote health equity and improve healthcare outcomes by working directly within the communities they serve. They often come from the same cultural or social backgrounds as the community they work in, fostering trust and understanding.

CHWs act as advocates for community members, helping them access necessary health services, understand healthcare information, and address social determinants of health. They may collaborate with healthcare providers, public health agencies, and community organizations to develop and implement health programs that address the unique needs of the population they serve. By building strong relationships within the community, community health workers contribute to the development of culturally competent and accessible healthcare services, ultimately improving health outcomes and reducing health disparities in underserved populations.

What does a Community Health Worker do?

A community health worker serves as a liaison between the community and the health care, government and social service systems.

Duties and Responsibilities
Community health workers perform a range of diverse and impactful duties that revolve around enhancing the health outcomes and accessibility of healthcare services within specific communities.

  • Individual Health Assessments: Conduct personalized health assessments for community members to identify specific health needs and concerns.
  • Cultural Competency: Demonstrate cultural competency by understanding and respecting diverse cultural practices, beliefs, and languages prevalent within the community.
  • Preventive Screenings: Facilitate and promote preventive health screenings, such as blood pressure checks, diabetes screenings, and vaccinations, to ensure early detection and intervention.
  • Referral Services: Provide guidance on available healthcare resources and social services, making appropriate referrals based on the specific needs of community members.
  • Follow-Up Support: Offer ongoing support and follow-up care, ensuring that individuals adhere to treatment plans and have access to necessary follow-up services.
  • Health Navigation: Navigate complex healthcare systems with community members, including assisting with scheduling appointments, arranging transportation, and addressing logistical barriers.
  • Community-Based Support Groups: Establish and facilitate community-based support groups for individuals facing similar health challenges, fostering a sense of community and mutual support.
  • Emergency Preparedness: Educate community members on emergency preparedness, including creating emergency plans and accessing local emergency services during crises.
  • Data Collection and Reporting: Collect and maintain accurate data on community health trends, challenges, and successes, contributing to evidence-based public health initiatives.
  • Public Health Campaigns: Collaborate with public health agencies to design and implement health campaigns targeting specific health issues prevalent in the community.
  • Language Interpretation: Provide language interpretation services to ensure effective communication between non-English speaking community members and healthcare providers.
  • Empowerment Programs: Develop and implement empowerment programs that aim to enhance community members' ability to advocate for their health needs and make informed decisions.
  • Partnership Building: Build partnerships with local organizations, schools, and businesses to create a comprehensive network of support for community health initiatives.
  • Home Visits: Conduct home visits to assess living conditions, address environmental health concerns, and provide personalized health education in a familiar and comfortable setting.
  • Documentation and Reporting: Maintain detailed records of interactions, interventions, and outcomes, ensuring proper documentation for program evaluation and improvement.

Types of Community Health Workers
Community health workers take on various roles and specializations to address the diverse needs of communities. Here are different types of community health workers:

  • Promotoras or Promotores de Salud: These are bilingual CHWs, often from the Latino/Hispanic community, specializing in providing health education and support. They play an important role in bridging cultural and linguistic gaps in healthcare.
  • Maternal and Child Health Workers: Specializing in maternal and child health, these CHWs provide support to pregnant women, new mothers, and families with young children. They offer guidance on prenatal care, breastfeeding, and child development.
  • Patient Navigators: Patient navigators assist individuals in navigating the healthcare system, helping them understand medical instructions, schedule appointments, and access necessary healthcare services.
  • Community-Based Educators: Focusing on health education, these CHWs conduct workshops, seminars, and outreach programs to educate communities on various health topics, preventive care, and healthy lifestyle choices.
  • HIV/AIDS Outreach Workers: Specializing in HIV/AIDS prevention and support, these CHWs work to raise awareness, provide information, and offer resources to individuals at risk or living with HIV/AIDS.
  • Chronic Disease Management Specialists: These CHWs concentrate on supporting individuals with chronic health conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, or cardiovascular diseases. They provide education on disease management and lifestyle modifications.
  • Substance Abuse Counselors: CHWs with expertise in substance abuse focus on prevention, education, and support for individuals struggling with substance use disorders. They may also assist in connecting individuals with treatment resources.
  • Mental Health Support Workers: Specializing in mental health, these CHWs offer support to individuals facing mental health challenges. They may provide resources, facilitate support groups, and promote mental health awareness.
  • Environmental Health Workers: Addressing environmental health concerns, these CHWs work to improve community environments by addressing issues such as air quality, water safety, and sanitation.
  • Senior Health Advocates: Focused on the elderly population, these CHWs provide support and resources related to senior health, including preventive care, social services, and navigating healthcare options for seniors.
  • Tobacco Cessation Specialists: Specializing in tobacco cessation, these CHWs work to reduce tobacco use in communities by providing education, resources, and support to individuals aiming to quit smoking.
  • Nutrition and Wellness Coordinators: These CHWs concentrate on promoting healthy eating habits, physical activity, and overall wellness within communities. They may conduct nutrition workshops and offer guidance on healthy lifestyle choices.
  • Health Insurance Navigators: These CHWs assist community members in understanding health insurance options, enrolling in coverage, and navigating the complexities of the healthcare financing system.

Are you suited to be a community health worker?

Community health workers have distinct personalities. They tend to be social individuals, which means they’re kind, generous, cooperative, patient, caring, helpful, empathetic, tactful, and friendly. They excel at socializing, helping others, and teaching. Some of them are also investigative, meaning they’re intellectual, introspective, and inquisitive.

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What is the workplace of a Community Health Worker like?

Community health workers operate within a variety of settings, reflecting their dynamic role as frontline public health professionals. One common workplace for CHWs is community-based organizations, where they often serve as a vital link between healthcare providers and the communities they serve. In these settings, CHWs engage directly with community members, conducting health education sessions, providing resources, and addressing specific health concerns. They may operate out of community centers, local clinics, or other accessible locations, fostering a familiar and comfortable environment for community members to seek support and information.

Additionally, CHWs can be found in healthcare institutions, working alongside healthcare providers to improve patient outcomes. In hospitals, CHWs may serve as patient navigators, assisting individuals in understanding and adhering to medical instructions, scheduling appointments, and connecting with necessary healthcare services. They contribute to a collaborative healthcare team, advocating for patients and addressing social determinants of health that may impact their well-being.

Some CHWs also operate within public health departments, participating in community outreach programs, conducting screenings, and contributing to public health initiatives aimed at improving population health.

Community Health Workers are also known as: