Have you ever wanted to be a leader in your community and help make positive change? If so, you should consider a career as a community health worker. CHWs serve as a liaison between public health services, like social service systems, and the community they serve.
There are many other benefits to a career as a community health worker besides being able to help people. It will give you the opportunity to join a rewarding and growing field that is currently expanding at a much faster rate than other occupations.
The salary for a community health worker, depending on the education level you reach, can also be satisfying. Better yet, a job that allows you to help people is said to lower blood pressure and reduce chronic pain.
Does this sound appealing, but you’re not sure where to start? Keep reading for the full rundown on what it takes to become a seasoned community health worker.
What Is a Community Health Worker?
Community health workers are at the forefront of their community in terms of teaching, implementing, and developing plans to improve healthcare. CHWs are also sometimes referred to as health promoters, community outreach advisers, peer outreach educators, or public health aides.
The people in these roles are the go-to wellness advocates who form a link between healthcare and the community they serve. They also work to build up individuals and their community through increased knowledge and interaction.
CHW’s typically spend much of their time working in the community that they serve rather than behind a desk. During working hours they may travel between visiting people in their homes, leading meetings, attending programs, and more. Additionally, CHW’s often live in the communities that they work in. They can either be employed by the government, family services, or religious groups.
A day in the life of a CHW could include listening to their community’s health concerns, educating residents about the importance of health care screenings and other services, and advocating for the community’s needs.
How to Become a Community Health Worker
The length of time it takes to become a community health worker depends on whether you plan to get a master’s degree. After graduating high school, it could take anywhere from four to six years. Below is the step-by-step process for how to become a CHW.
- Complete High School
You must graduate from high school to pursue a career as a CHW. A high school diploma is a required minimum. However, many community health workers choose to continue their education and earn a bachelor’s or even a master’s degree.
To learn how to build individual and community relations, on-the-job training is necessary in this career path. You can expect to undergo around 100 hours, or more, of on-the-job training.
This training may include mentoring and classroom study. In some instances, you will be able to start working after completing steps one and two. However, if you wish to advance in the field quickly, it is recommended that you continue to step three.
- Earn a Bachelor’s Degree
After high school, you should plan on attending an accredited college to earn a degree in either health and wellness or public health. According to Indeed, a bachelor’s degree in this field includes courses in biology, medical terminology, anatomy, physiology, and epidemiology.
- Continue education
If you want to specialize in a certain area within community health, you may have to obtain a master’s degree. Some specializations include mental health, environmental health, human behavior, biometric and epidemiology surveys, and research methods.
- Get Certified and Stay Up-To-Date on Certification
Depending on your employer, you may have to receive a specific certification to practice as a CHW. A certified Health Education Specialist credential is one of the typical credentials. The National Commission for Health Education Credentialing offers this certification.
Additionally, those who wish to stay certified must complete 75 hours of supplementary education every five years.
What Skills Are Necessary to Thrive as a CHW?
In order to succeed as a CHW, both hard and soft skills are necessary. In addition to having strong analytical, teaching, data entry, and organizational skills, you must have these soft skills.
You will meet many people from different backgrounds in this career. You will need to be able to understand where they are coming from and to feel for their situations.
As a CHW, you will face many difficult situations. Strong problem-solving skills are a must in order to plan, budget, and oversee community programs.
In many careers, persistence is a great skill to have, but in community health work, it is essential. In many cases, you are the lifeline for the community you are serving, so you must be persistent when advocating for their needs.
An excellent skill for any career and in life is to be trustworthy. As a CHW, you might be privy to confidential information regarding your clients in the community, and it is your job to keep it that way. Additionally, you will want to build trust within your community.
Community Health Worker Salary and Job Outlook
A career as a CHW has many benefits, like being able to make a difference in your community. Another benefit of this career? A competitive salary and positive job outlook.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national average for a community health worker’s salary is $40,360. Additionally, the number of available CHW roles is expected to grow by 13 percent by 2029 – a much faster rate than other occupations.