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 Maria’s journey from CHW to dietitian/nutritionist. The second features Carlos, who also became a dietitian/nutritionist, but unlike Maria, 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.
Maria had worked as a CHW at a non-profit that focused on promoting healthy living and nutrition in the community. Her responsibilities as a CHW involved group education and case management, especially for families who were managing chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease. She enjoyed the majority of her responsibilities but wanted to find new ways to develop and possibly go back to school to grow professionally. She loved her job and had a personal connection as her mother also had diabetes. She recalled that her mother gained a lot from working with a dietitian. Maria’s mother recommended that she should look into the role. The role maintained some of the same qualities as her current role and gave her a reason to go back to school. Maria did some additional research and saw that she needed to obtain a bachelor’s degree, supervised training, and become registered. After weighing all the pros and cons, she decided to start the path to becoming a dietitian.
Maria started her journey as a dietitian by enrolling in a dietetic program at a state college. The program she enrolled in allowed her to get her supervised training while finishing up school. She figured this would save time in the overall process. However, she ended up having to move a couple of hours away in order to enroll in the program she wanted. She left her position as a CHW and began working for student health services on campus. After five years, she graduated with a bachelor’s in dietetics and completed her supervised training. Following graduation, she signed up with the Commission of Dietetic Registration, to take her credentialing exam. She passed the exam on her first attempt and became a registered dietitian nutritionist. Once she was registered, she began searching for jobs. It took some time for her to locate a position, but eventually, she found a dietitian job with a health care company.
Carlos had been a physical therapist assistant for three years in a nursing home. He chose the role because he was always intrigued by helping rehabilitate patients with chronic conditions. However, over time he grew tired of being a physical therapy assistant and wanted to find a new role where he could still aid an individual’s health. Outside of being a physical therapy assistant, he enjoyed living a healthy lifestyle by eating right and exercising. He decided it was time to find a new career that combined his love for healthy living while still being able to help people. After doing some online research, he came across the dietitian role. The new role would require him to go back to school but since he already had a degree in biology, he would just need to enroll in a post-baccalaureate program. On top of additional schooling, he would need to gain supervised experience and become registered. Ultimately, he decided this would begin the course of becoming a dietitian.
Carlos started the process by enrolling in a post-baccalaureate program in nutrition at a local university. Since it was a post-baccalaureate program, he was able to carry over his credits from his previous degree and complete it in a year. Once he completed the program, he began researching supervised dietetic experience. He ended up finding one in a health clinic’s nutritional services department. The program typically took about a year, but he was able to finish early because of his years as a physical therapy assistant. He then signed up to take the exam to become a registered dietitian. Quickly after registering, he passed the exam and became a registered dietitian nutritionist. Once he had obtained the necessary credentials, he started looking for jobs. He eventually got a job at a health home agency and began his career as a dietitian.
Note these stories are based on real-life scenarios but contain fictional characters.
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.