Establishing a professional profile of community health workers: results from a national study of roles, activities and training

Maia Ingram, Kerstin M Reinschmidt, Ken A Schachter, Chris L Davidson, Samantha J Sabo, Jill Guernsey De Zapien, Scott C Carvajal
Journal of Community Health 2012, 37 (2): 529-37
Community Health Workers (CHWs) have gained national recognition for their role in addressing health disparities and are increasingly integrated into the health care delivery system. There is a lack of consensus, however, regarding empirical evidence on the impact of CHW interventions on health outcomes. In this paper, we present results from the 2010 National Community Health Worker Advocacy Survey (NCHWAS) in an effort to strengthen a generalized understanding of the CHW profession that can be integrated into ongoing efforts to improve the health care delivery system. Results indicate that regardless of geographical location, work setting, and demographic characteristics, CHWs generally share similar professional characteristics, training preparation, and job activities. CHWs are likely to be female, representative of the community they serve, and to work in community health centers, clinics, community-based organizations, and health departments. The most common type of training is on-the-job and conference training. Most CHWs work with clients, groups, other CHWs and less frequently community leaders to address health issues, the most common of which are chronic disease, prevention and health care access. Descriptions of CHW activities documented in the survey demonstrate that CHWs apply core competencies in a synergistic manner in an effort to assure that their clients get the services they need. NCHWAS findings suggest that over the past 50 years, the CHW field has become standardized in response to the unmet needs of their communities. In research and practice, the field would benefit from being considered a health profession rather than an intervention.

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