It’s always been important to you that people know what options they have in life. You’ve always cared about healthy living and are passionate about promoting it to others. You see the big picture, and people come to you because they know you’ll have the resources to get them connected.
If you consider yourself a people person and have a desire to help others improve their lives, you’ve probably considered a healthcare career. But just because you’re interested in providing direct patient care, doesn’t mean you have to work in a hospital. It sounds like a career as a community health worker might be right up your alley.
But before you make your decision, you need to know the ins and outs of the job. We connected with a variety of community health workers to give you a realistic view of the profession. Keep reading for a sneak peek into this rewarding healthcare career.
What does a community health worker actually do?
A community health worker (CHW) serves as a liaison between health or social services and individuals in their communities. These are the people on the front lines, providing advocacy, information and education to community members in order to help them improve their lifestyle and link them to their proper healthcare options. They can work everywhere from family services offices to outpatient care centers to offices of physicians.
FACT: Jobs for community health workers are expected to increase 25% through 2022.
As you can see, there are many different types of CHWs, so depending on the type of community you prefer—urban, communities with limited resources, groups with cultural beliefs that differ from Western medical care—you could end up carrying out all sorts of different kinds of duties. Tasks could vary from distributing brochures with educational information in relevant neighborhoods to helping an elderly woman check her glucose levels. They may also work with individuals or groups to educate them on preventable diseases like HIV, heart disease or skin cancer.
By providing social support, informal counseling and services like first aid or blood pressure screening, CHWs help make their communities healthier, supported and educated about healthy living and available health services.
What does a typical day look like as a community health worker?
Depending on the day and the type of CHW, daily duties can vary significantly. A CHW generally has a lot of mobility, and the responsibilities of their position will change depending on the needs of individuals or the general community. You may end up providing cultural mediation related to healthcare for one community member, or you could spend your day educating a family on the importance of childhood immunizations.
“My day can start as early as 7:00am to work with adult and senior clients,” says Tasha Kornegay, a CHW who specializes in outpatient mental health patients. She explains that later in the day, she works with school-age children and also organizes care with clients’ primary care providers depending on the types of medical needs they have.
For most CHWs, no two work days are the same. So describing a “typical day” is a bit of an oxymoron, because there is no such thing as typical.
What does it take to become a community health worker?
Education & training
Again, education requirements vary depending on the type of community health worker you decide to become. Some positions require an associate degree or a bachelor's degree; others require certain certifications, such as safety or technology. If you choose to pursue a specialty like mental health, you’ll likely need a more advanced degree.
Important skills & characteristics
The CHW field is thriving. There is a great need for this type of community employee, and some of the top skills in demand for this position are social services experience, care plans, health education, screening and case management.
“You need to be incredibly resourceful,” Spalding says. “You need to know all of the possible resources for someone and be able to think outside the box to create safety plans that will actually work to keep them safe.”
How will being a community health worker affect my life?
While caring for people is rewarding, you still have a family to support and bills to pay. The median annual salary for community health workers in 2012 was $34,620, with the top 10 percent earning more than $58,650, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).* While you’ll be out making sure people are choosing the best and most affordable options for healthcare in their communities, you can be sure that you’ll be able to take care of your own healthcare bills, should the need arise.
After compensation, your next question is likely, “Am I going to be able to find a job?” You’ll be happy to hear that jobs for community health workers are projected to increase by a faster-than-average 25 percent, according to the BLS.
This rapid growth can be attributed to the rising costs of healthcare. One way employers, insurance companies and the government are attempting to curb costs is by hiring CHWs to educate individuals about how to live healthy lives and avoid costly diseases and medical procedures.
Does this type of career make you excited?
As you connect the dots between your skills and interests and the needs of your community, consider becoming a community health worker! There’s a select population out there waiting for you and your heart for helping. As a community health worker, you’ll have the opportunity to empower others to make positive changes and take control of their health.
If you feel like this career is your calling, it’s time to take the next step in your research. Learn more about the types of positions you could land as a community health worker.
*Salary data represents national, averaged earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries and employment conditions in your area may vary.