Role development of community health workers: an examination of selection and training processes in the intervention literature

Matthew J O'Brien, Allison P Squires, Rebecca A Bixby, Steven C Larson
American Journal of Preventive Medicine 2009, 37 (6 Suppl 1): S262-9

BACKGROUND: Research evaluating community health worker (CHW) programs inherently involves these natural community leaders in the research process, and often represents community-based participatory research (CBPR). Interpreting the results of CHW intervention studies and replicating their findings requires knowledge of how CHWs are selected and trained.

METHODS: A summative content analysis was performed to evaluate the description of CHW selection and training in the existing literature. First-level coding focused on contextual information about CHW programs. Second-level coding identified themes related to the selection and training of CHWs.

RESULTS: There was inconsistent reporting of selection and training processes for CHWs in the existing literature. Common selection criteria included personal qualities desired of CHWs. Training processes for CHWs were more frequently reported. Wide variation in the length and content of CHW training exists in the reviewed studies. A conceptual model is presented for the role development of CHWs based on the results of this review, which is intended to guide future reporting of CHW programs in the intervention literature.

CONCLUSIONS: Consistent reporting of CHW selection and training will allow consumers of intervention research to better interpret study findings. A standard approach to reporting selection and training processes will also more effectively guide the design and implementation of future CHW programs. All community-based researchers must find a balance between describing the research process and reporting more traditional scientific content. The current conceptual model provides a guide for standard reporting in the CHW literature.

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