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What is a community health worker?

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Community health workers are advocates, educators, analysts, data collectors, and leaders in the communities they serve. With a combination of health-related education, specialized knowledge, cultural sensitivity, and compassion, community health workers play a vital role in helping individuals gain access to essential health care and social services.

What does a community health worker do?

A community health worker is a link between a community and the greater health care system. They help vulnerable or specialized populations access the health support they need by identifying challenges, removing barriers, promoting education and community health programs, and collecting demographic and medical data.


For example, some community health workers may work in a home support role, acting as caregivers for patients who need assistance with their daily activities. Others may work in an outreach capacity, focused on providing support and informal counseling to members of at-risk populations. Community health workers may also focus on proactive education around a specific topic, such as heart disease or mental health, and work with their community and health care partners to increase awareness and understanding of the issue.

Typical duties of a community health worker

A community health worker’s responsibilities vary considerably with the type of community in which they work. In general, community health workers build connections between their clients and health care providers. They collect information and data about the community or population they serve and use it to inform and improve the delivery of medical and rehabilitative care. Some of their duties may include:


  • Helping patients navigate the health care system with a culturally sensitive lens
  • Leading community education campaigns about various topics, such as mental health, physical activity, or nutrition
  • Assisting patients in finding health and community supports by referring them to the appropriate services and organizations
  • Helping patients find and enroll in health insurance plans
  • Advocating for increased resources and services for underserved or vulnerable communities
  • Collecting demographic and medical data to share with policymakers and stakeholders
  • Providing informal counseling and social support to help reduce feelings of isolation or anxiety

Industries that employ community health workers

Though the largest employer of community health workers is the government, these professionals may also work for individual and family services, civic or professional organizations, hospitals, or outpatient care centers.

How do you become a community health worker?

If you’re interested in helping improve health outcomes, serving vulnerable, marginalized, or at-risk populations, and engaging with your community in a meaningful way, you may want to consider becoming a community health worker.

Required education

Community health workers have at least a high school diploma, though some employers require further education such as an associate or bachelor’s degree, particularly for positions with greater responsibility. Since community health workers must have a deep understanding of the diverse communities they serve, cultural awareness is an essential element of any educational program.

Certification options

Certification requirements for community health workers vary by state. According to the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, 12 states have state-operated certification programs, while seven have privately operated certification options. Fifteen other states are currently developing or considering a certification program for community health workers.


The objective of these certifications is to ensure that community health workers possess the right skills and competencies to perform their duties effectively. These competencies include:


  • Understanding community outreach and potential barriers to effective outreach, as well as how to overcome them
  • Knowledge of the social determinants of health
  • Knowledge of the boundaries, scope of work, and responsibilities of community health workers

Important skills and attributes

A community health worker is a compassionate, kind, and sensitive person who is comfortable interacting with diverse populations. Because these professionals interact directly with the communities they serve, they have excellent interpersonal skills and a strong foundation in conflict resolution. In order to develop educational material and effectively communicate with different groups of people, successful community health workers are also skilled writers and public speakers. Community health workers also have analytical minds; they’re able to analyze the data they collect and use it to inform their delivery of health care programs and services.

Why are community health workers important?

The role of the community health worker focuses primarily on preventive care. By helping patients gain access to the services and support they need, community health workers promote health and wellness on a broad scale. This approach to health care has led to positive outcomes for the larger population — and both local and national health care systems — by reducing the need for emergency care, increasing health screening and use of preventive and diagnostic health care services, and improving community understanding of the health care system. Furthermore, studies have shown that community health workers can help reduce health-related costs by offering a more economical approach to care, particularly in low-income and underserved communities.

What is the career outlook for a community health worker?

As efforts increase to improve community health outcomes, so too will the demand for community health workers. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that the employment of community health workers and health educators will grow 13% between 2019 and 2029, compared with an average of 4% growth for all occupations.


In 2020, community health workers earned a median salary of $42,000. However, wages can vary considerably depending on location and employer. For example, the median wage for community health workers operating in individual and family services was 38,300 in 2020; those working for state, local, and private hospitals earned an average salary of $48,150.

Start your journey toward becoming a community health worker

Find your path toward a career as a community health worker. Our recommendation engine can help you identify the degrees, certificates, or courses that align with your learning style, schedule, and career objectives. Get more details on the health programs best suited to helping you become a community health worker.


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