JOURNAL ARTICLE

The community health worker cultural mentoring project: preparing professional students for team work with health workers from urban communities

Laurie N Sherwen, Elena Schwolsky-Fitch, Romelia Rodriquez, Greg Horta, Ivanna Lopez
Journal of Allied Health 2007, 36 (1): e66-86
19759984
Community Health Workers or CHWs (also known by a variety of alternative titles) are health workers drawn from communities to provide access to care for members of their communities. CHWs have been documented as effective in delivering a variety of services in a culturally-sensitive manner, and in providing a bridge between health professionals and underserved or minority communities. Yet, CHWs have not been well incorporated into interdisciplinary health care teams. The majority of health professionals are not even aware of the possible role and skills of CHWs. Believing that the best time to educate professionals about this valuable health worker and ensure that CHWs become part of interdisciplinary health care teams is during the student years, the Hunter College Schools of the Health Professions, and the Community Health Worker Network of New York City developed a pilot project, the Community Health Worker Cultural Mentoring Project. Community Health Workers, who were members of the Network, served as "community mentors" for health professions students drawn from the programs of community health education, nursing, and nutrition. CHWs worked with faculty of selected courses in each of the professional programs, and served as panelists in these courses, presenting information about health beliefs and alternative health practices of diverse cultural groups in communities of New York City. Class sessions were first held in the fall of 2004; subsequent sessions were held in following semesters. Approximately 40 students participated in 7 classes, with 6 CHWs serving as mentors - two per class. At the end of the classroom presentations, students wrote reflections relating to their understanding of the CHW role and relevance for their future interdisciplinary practice. The majority of reflections met the goal of increasing professional students' understanding of the CHW role and skills. At this point, quantitative and qualitative data will need to be collected to verify the benefits of CHWs serving as cultural mentors, in order to determine the value of such panels being incorporated into health professions' education programs.

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