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Community Health Worker

How to Become a Community Health Worker

Imagine trying to set up a doctor’s appointment, but you don’t understand English. Or finding out you’re pregnant, but your family support system is in another country. You’re completely on your own. Where do you turn?

That’s where community health workers come in. Community health workers are on the front lines to promote public health in their communities. They guide individuals to help them navigate complex healthcare and social support systems.

Above all else, community health workers are advocates for individuals in their communities.

Nurse Informaticist Looking At Camera

What Is a Community Health Worker?

Community health workers are closely tied to the communities they serve. They’re dedicated to making a difference and improving public health in their communities. Through advocacy, education, and informal counseling, they provide support to individuals and families. 

Today, with the rising costs of healthcare and the need for health interventions, CHWs are in high demand. Their work directly impacts community health initiatives and individual health outcomes. 

Are you interested in making a difference in your community? Curious about how to become a community health worker? Find out more about the career below.

How Do I Become a Community Health Worker?

The steps to becoming a community health worker depend on a variety of factors. What type of position are you looking for? Where do you live? Are you looking to work for a nonprofit, government, or hospital role? 

At a minimum, entry-level positions usually require a high school diploma or associate degree. However, most CHW positions require a bachelor's degree in a healthcare-related field. And if you’re interested in working in the federal government or a public health agency, you’ll likely need a master’s or doctoral degree.  

Step One: Obtain a health-related bachelor’s degree 

The first step to starting your CHW career is getting a bachelor’s degree in a health-related field. A bachelor’s degree in health services coordination prepares you to navigate the complexities of the healthcare system. You’ll use your knowledge to support individuals and families and connect them with resources.  

Step Two: Get on-the-job training or a certification 

While you’re pursuing your bachelor’s degree, consider finding an internship or mentorship program to get some experience working with individuals in the community. After you graduate, you can either pursue a CHW certificate or start applying to jobs, depending on your goals. 

Step Three: Find your specialization 

Between managing caseloads and monitoring health progress, CHWs are well equipped for healthcare services. Some CHWs use the role as a starting point for their healthcare careers. They may decide to shift into nursing, public health, or another role in medicine. 

Others specialize or dive deeper into community health work. On the community-facing side, you could focus on mental health, diabetes education, drug and alcohol counseling, or health education

For CHWs interested in the administrative side of things, one option is to pursue a role as a program coordinator. Program coordinators oversee public health programs and are deeply involved in planning, implementation, and assessments.  Another option is becoming a director of family health services. Unlike a standard CHW role, directors don’t usually work directly with the community. Instead, they help manage projects, hire and supervise CHW staff, and oversee program budgets.

Do I Need a Community Health Worker Certification for This Position?

For many states, certification is voluntary; however, some states require a community health worker certification. Many organizations require a bachelor’s degree and may require on-the-job training, certifications, or an advanced degree.

Best Degrees for Community Health Workers

Nursing (Prelicensure) – B.S.

A one-of-a-kind nursing program that prepares you to be an RN...

A one-of-a-kind nursing program that prepares you...

A one-of-a-kind nursing program that prepares you to be an RN and a baccalaureate-prepared nurse:

  • Locations: offered in FL, IN, TX, and UT only.
  • Tuition and fees: $5,925 per 6-month term.

WGU offers the prelicensure program in areas where we have partnerships with healthcare employers to provide practice sites and clinical coaches to help teach you and inspire you on your path to becoming a nurse.

If you don't live in one of our prelicensure states or don't qualify to apply, consider getting our Bachelor's Degree in Health Services Coordination instead. This degree allows you to work inside the healthcare industry, while also working directly with patients who need help.

Health Services Coordination – B.S.

An online health degree program for students passionate about...

An online health degree program for students...

An online health degree program for students passionate about value-based care and dedicated to helping others.

  • Time: 60% of graduates of similar programs finish within 3 years.
  • Tuition and fees: $3,225 per 6-month term, plus a Health Professions Student Fee of $350.

Sample careers and jobs this degree will prepare you for:

  • Care coordinator
  • Patient advocate
  • Health services coordinator
  • Patient educator
  • Community health educator

This degree allows you to work inside the healthcare industry, while also directly working with patients who need help.

Nursing – Leadership and Management (RN-to-MSN) – M.S.

This program for RNs includes a BSN component and is a...

This program for RNs includes a BSN component and...

This program for RNs includes a BSN component and is a substantial leap toward becoming a nurse leader.

  • Time: 75% of RN-to-MSN grads finish within 42 months.
  • Tuition and fees: $3,545 per 6-month term during undergraduate portion, $4,135 per 6-month term during graduate portion, plus a Health Professions Student Fee of $350.

Some careers and jobs this degree will prepare you for:

  • Director of Nursing
    Chief Nursing Officer
    Quality Director
    Clinical Nurse Leader
    Project Manager

If you're driven to lead, this online nursing degree will provide you everything needed to make that career a reality.

Compare degrees
This program is not the only degree WGU offers designed to create leaders in the field of healthcare. Compare our health leadership degrees by clicking the button below.

Compare Similar Degrees

Nursing (RN-to-BSN Online) – B.S.

An online BSN degree program for registered nurses (RNs) seeking...

An online BSN degree program for registered...

An online BSN degree program for registered nurses (RNs) seeking the added theoretical depth, employability, and respect that a bachelor's degree brings:

  • Time: 66% of graduates finish within 18 months.
  • Tuition and Fees: $3,225 per 6-month term, plus a Health Professions Student Fee of $350.
  • Transfers: On average, students transfer 81 credits.

With over 35,000 BSN alumni, this is one of WGU's most popular online degree programs. View our RN to BSN degree guide.

If you don't currently have an RN and don't qualify for your nursing prelicensure program, consider getting our Bachelor's Degree in Health Services Coordination instead. This degree allows you to work inside the healthcare industry in a unique way.

Nursing – Leadership and Management (BSN-to-MSN) – M.S.

For registered nurses with a bachelor's degree who are ready for...

For registered nurses with a bachelor's degree...

For registered nurses with a bachelor's degree who are ready for greater responsibility:

  • Time: 82% of grads finish within 24 months.
  • Tuition and fees: $4,135 per 6-month term, plus a Health Professions Student Fee of $350.

Sample careers and jobs this degree program will prepare you for:

  • Director of Nursing
    Chief Nursing Officer
    Quality Director
    Clinical Nurse Leader
    Project Manager

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment of medical and health services managers to grow 17% by 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations.

Compare degrees

This program is not the only degree WGU offers designed to create leaders in the field of healthcare. Compare our health leadership degrees by clicking the button below.

Compare Similar Degrees

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No need to wait for spring or fall semester. It's back-to-school time at WGU year-round. Get started by talking to an Enrollment Counselor today, and you'll be on your way to realizing your dream of a bachelor's or master's degree—sooner than you might think!

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There are many healthcare degree options to choose from. Compare them to find the best fit for you.

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What Skills Does a Community Health Worker Need?

Community health workers usually don’t work alone in a back office or hide behind their computers all day. Just like the name suggests, being a CHW entails working in the community. Community health workers are empathetic and willing to go the extra mile to ensure individuals have access to the care services they need. 

Whether you work in a hospital setting or with family services, being a CHW involves connecting with others and promoting health for residents in the community.

Some qualities of a community health worker include: 

  • Strong interpersonal communication and relationship-building skills 

  • Understanding of local social and health resources to make appropriate referrals  

  • Ability to maintain electronic medical records and manage data 

  • Comfortable with public speaking and leading group discussions and workshops 

  • Strong organization and case management skills

  • Ability to provide counseling and mentorship to community members 

  • Knowledge of and a strong desire to help the community 

  • Comfortable conducting home visits and community outreach 

  • Risk identification skills to recommend appropriate health plan and refer services 

  • Cultural competency to communicate appropriately with a variety of populations 

  • Bilingual, if relevant in the community served

How Much Does a Community Health Worker Make?

$42,000

A Community Health Worker’s salary varies depending on the industry served, whether that’s hospitals, nonprofits, government, or family services. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the median salary for CHWs was $42,000 in 2020.

What Is the Job Outlook For a Community Health Worker?

13%

To reduce healthcare costs and improve public health outcomes, organizations will increasingly look to community health workers to educate, promote health, and be a resource for the community.  The BLS predicts the demand for CHWs is expected to grow by 13%—much faster than the average for all occupations.

Where Does a Community Health Worker Work?

Varies

Most CHWs work in their own communities, giving them the ability to understand and empathize with the population they serve. As a community health worker, you could work in a variety of settings, including a doctors’ office, hospital, private business, college, or nonprofit organization.

Interested in Becoming a Community Healthcare Worker?

Learn more about healthcare degree programs that can prepare you for this meaningful career.

View Degree Programs