Careers in Health, Education, and Social Work Spotlight

Published February 2021 | Back to all news and updates 

Community Health Workers Have Many Career Paths

The unique nature of work performed by Community Health Workers (CHWs) allows them to cross over into many different career paths. Typically, the progression from one career to the next is visualized as a “career ladder” which describes climbing upwards towards a better or higher-paying position. However, because the skillset required of a CHW overlaps with skillsets required from many other professions, a CHW’s career movement cannot solely be described as going “up” and “down” or being better or worse.

Rather, a “career web”, which allows for movement in many directions, better depicts the idea that there are a variety of different paths that can lead an individual into and out of the CHW profession.

Although there are different career paths for a CHW, many people have vibrant and successful careers as lifelong CHWs. As with all things in the workforce, longer experience in a role often increases how effective an individual is in that role.

Each month, we will highlight the journey of individuals’ professional development into roles within and outside of the CHW profession. The first story is about Jose’s journey from CHW to Case Manager. The second features George, who also became a Case Manager, but unlike Jose, he did not start out as a CHW. This story is included to illustrate how the CHW profession builds skillsets that are desirable across industries. It is also included to illustrate the key differences between the CHW profession and other careers in related fields.

Jose’s Story: From Community Health Worker to Case Manager

Jose started working as CHW at a children’s hospital after completing his associate degree in psychology. He had always lived in a rural area that was predominantly Latino. He had a great relationship with the community and always wanted to find a meaningful job where he could help the community. He took the role as a CHW to fulfill his mission to assist the community but did not see himself staying in the profession forever. The role also required most work to be done out in the community and he wanted an office position. Before becoming a CHW he had considered becoming a case manager. He had not pursued the role because it required a bachelor’s degree and, at the time he was not ready to continue school. He felt like after a few years as a CHW it was time to finish up his degree and move into a case manager role.

Jose joined a psychology bachelor’s program at a community college. Most of the credits from his associate’s program transferred over, so he was able to finish in two and a half years. After obtaining his bachelor’s in psychology, Oliver started looking for case manager jobs. The majority of the positions he saw required a couple of years of experience, and Oliver was able to use his time as a CHW to fulfill this condition. Eventually, he found a position at a health care company in a program that focused on case management for severe mental illness. He obtained the role and began his position as a case manager.

Jose worked as a case manager for a couple of years. He enjoyed the role but felt like there were certain aspects of being a CHW that he missed. He missed having a secure connection with the community and did not like working in an office as much as he thought he would. He previously saw the CHW role as a bridge into other professions but after working in an office realized how much he appreciated his time as a CHW. Additionally, there was not a pay increase in transitioning from a CHW to a case manager. After some time, he decided that he would leave his position as a case manager and go back to CHW work. He began looking for a CHW position and found one at a health center in the area. The role focused on case management for behavioral health which fell into his area of expertise. He ended up applying for the role and got it. From then on out he realized his passion was in CHW work and he maintained the position for many years to come.

George’s Story: From Cashier to Case Manager

George had been a cashier at a large grocery chain for a couple of years. After some time, he became tired of the role and remembered always wanting to find a career where he could assist people. He recalled when he was younger his parents went through some hard times and needed assistance. A case manager came to the family’s aid and put them on the right track. He wanted to provide that same assistance to families in need and decided to become a case manager would be the right choice. Before he ventured into the case manager role he wanted to do some research to explore any similar options. During his research, he came across the CHW role. The position caught his attention because CHWs and case managers share many of the same responsibilities. He finally decided the CHW was not right for him, because he did not have the connection with his community needed to help him succeed as a CHW. Ultimately, he went with his first instinct and went forward with becoming a case manager. He looked online to find out the requirements for becoming a case manager and saw he would need to acquire a bachelor’s degree. He decided to work at the grocery store for another year to save up some money and afterward began the process of becoming a case manager.

George started his journey by enrolling in a counseling program at the closest university. During his time in school, he was able to keep his job as a cashier to maintain an income. He obtained his bachelor’s degree in counseling after three and a half years. Following graduation, he knew he would need to acquire relevant experience in the field. To gain the experience he found an intern position with a mental health provider. He was an intern for six months until the provider promoted him to a case manager assistant. He stayed in the new role for another year until he had the experience needed to become a full-time case manager. The provider he was working for was not hiring any case managers at the time, so he started looking elsewhere. Eventually, he found a case manager position at a rehabilitation center. He interviewed for the position and managed to get the position as a case manager.

Note these stories are based on real-life scenarios but contain fictional characters.

Download the CHW Career Web Model Resource for free!

Our CHW Career Web Model resource demonstrates the numerous ways that an individual can find themselves becoming a CHW or how they may progress their career under various ‘career clusters’ like social work, clinical, or advocacy after being a CHW. The resource can be used as a tool by organizations that work with CHWs such as community-based organizations, CHW Associations, Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs), Primary Care Associations (PCAs), and Area Health Educations Centers (AHECs) to help explain the different career trajectories those in the CHW workforce have.

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About MHP Salud

MHP Salud has over 35 years of experience implementing CHW programs and training organizations looking to start and/or strengthen their own CHW programs. Visit our CHW Training & Consulting Services page to learn more about how we can help.