Careers in Health, Education, and Social Work Spotlight

Published August 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.

Aaron’s Story: From CHW to CHW Supervisor

Aaron worked as a CHW at a small non-profit that focused on providing preventative oral care. His role included duties like outreach, health education, and cultural facilitation between patients and dentists. He had also naturally started leading his team and trained all incoming CHWs. However, he has never been appointed a leadership or trainer title. He had been in the position for nine years and was beginning to feel burned out by having the same responsibilities for so long. He wanted to find new ways to develop professionally but felt like he had exhausted all aspects of his job. He began to think about looking into a new position but did not want to leave CHW work. He had always been a part of his small rural community and being a CHW allowed him to continue caring for the community that he admired so much.

Another year went by and he had given up hope in resolving his feelings of burnout. Until one day his supervisor informed him that the organization was expanding the CHW program and wanted to add a CHW manager position. Aaron immediately knew that this could be the opportunity he was looking for to advance his professional development. He had been with the organization for a long time, but his supervisor explained that he would Community Health Worker → Community Health Worker Supervisor still has to apply and other CHWs in the program were interested. When he got home, he cleaned up his resume and applied for the position. He also practiced his interview skills with his wife because it had been a while since his last interview. He went into the interview confident though still nervous another CHW may get the role. The interview ended up going well and he was told that he would know the committee’s decision in a week. After a couple of days, his supervisor informed him that he had gotten the position. He began his career as a CHW manager and found many new ways to develop within the new role.

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.