Careers in Health, Education, and Social Work Spotlight

Published January 2020 | 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 Oliver’s journey from CHW to Teacher. The second features Emilia, who also became a Teacher, but unlike Oliver, she 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.

Oliver’s Story: From Community Health Worker to Teacher

Oliver worked as a CHW for many years at an organization that specializes in providing financial assistance. His role as a CHW involved providing financial education for individuals in the community. He enjoyed many aspects of his position, especially holding education sessions. However, he disliked the long drives to various locations to conduct each session and the lack of autonomy over the material covered. One day, during a conversation about considering a possible career change, Oliver’s friend recommended he look into becoming a teacher. His friend explained that Oliver would continue to educate individuals but would stay in one location and have some creative freedom over his lessons. Oliver carefully considered transitioning into a teacher role but was apprehensive as he would need to obtain a bachelor’s degree and was worried about paying off his student loans after graduation. Ultimately, he decided that this was the right path and because of his background in finance focused on becoming a high school economics teacher.

Oliver enrolled in a bachelor’s program that allowed him to take some classes online so he could continue to work full time as a CHW. During the program, he was required to work under a teacher for one semester and during this period he scaled back to part-time as a CHW. School was difficult for Oliver and he struggled to remain focused throughout but after seven years, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in economics. Following graduation, he left his position as a CHW and began working as a substitute teacher. It was a pay cut from being a CHW, but he could gain classroom experience while he studied for the teaching certification exam. During his time as a substitute, he began making connections and heard about an opening for an economics teaching role for the following school year. He swiftly completed his teaching certification and applied for the role. He received a job offer and started his role as a high school economics teacher in the new school year.

Emilia’s Story: From Daycare Worker to Teacher

Emilia worked at a daycare in a room for young toddlers after graduating from high school. She initially took the role because she had enjoyed working with children. She was learning a lot about early childhood education, though she left each day exhausted after the high level of physical care required for her work. Luckily, the toddlers in her room were adorable! She also was not compensated well and continued to live at home with her parents to save money. Her dream was to work as an elementary school teacher. Emilia’s favorite Aunt Lisa had been a third-grade teacher and was now retired. She guided Emilia on the steps necessary to become a teacher.

Emilia began her journey by joining an education program at a state university. The program she enrolled in incorporated student teaching, which allowed her to finish the requirement while in school. During her time in school, she took online and evening classes and ended up leaving her job at the daycare to work as a CHW. She came across the role because CHWs would frequently conduct education sessions for parents at the daycare. She figured it would provide useful experience as an instructor and the compensation was higher than her caretaker role. She still intended to leave the CHW role once she graduated as becoming an elementary school teacher was still her passion. Eventually, she earned a bachelor’s in elementary education. Swiftly after graduation, she earned her state teaching certification and began the search for a job. After a couple of months of searching and interviewing at a few schools, Emilia got a job as a first-grade teacher.

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.