College for America Blog

Get to know your frontline healthcare workers (part 1)


Posted In: Workforce Insight

Feb • 11 • 2016

Last month, I had the pleasure of presenting at the TMA People in Healthcare conference and talked with practitioners from around the country. Many participated in our session, “Ensuring the Continuum of Care: The Evolving Roles in Care Coordination” (view the slides or watch the presentation here), and I heard many different challenges around defining the roles of frontline healthcare workers. As a senior workforce strategist, I’ve invested a tremendous amount of time researching these roles—College for America at Southern New Hampshire University is committed to developing well-rounded, critical thinking individuals who have the competencies necessary to excel in their careers. These outcomes transpire out of a completely integrated learning experience—there is no “learning programming” separate from “career programming” in the student experience; however, there is intense research that goes into both.

For our healthcare degrees—our Associate of Arts in Healthcare Management and Bachelor of Arts in Healthcare Management—we’ve dug deeply into frontline healthcare jobs to understand the critical knowledge and skills that are needed to perform them effectively. In this two part series, I would like to share some of our research on two rapidly evolving roles: the community health worker (CHW) and the patient representative.

If you are interested in a more detailed view of how roles are evolving in frontline healthcare, please check out our research report on workforce trends in healthcare.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 54,000 community health workers (CHWs) in 2014, and their numbers are projected to grow at a pace faster than most positions in the U.S.1 Forty states and the District of Columbia are currently integrating CHWs into their evolving healthcare systems.

Although their numbers are increasing, the funding to support CHWs is tenuous. These roles are frequently not reimbursable under the healthcare system (though a recent policy change at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services makes some services reimbursable2). Instead, CHWs are often funded using grant dollars, which often dictate the specifics of who they serve, where that audience is served,  the type of institution that employs the CHW. It follows, then, that there is no generally accepted education, certification, or licensure (though some states are pursuing a state credential).

While we are witnessing this evolution of the industry and role, there are some basic standard responsibilities and characteristics that make up a CHW. Successful CHWs typically:

  • Have strong ties to their communities and a passion for helping people
  • Serve as a liaison between his or her community and its local healthcare and social services providers
  • Reach out to individuals and communities to help them adopt healthy behaviors
  • Design and facilitate programs in the community that promote, maintain, and improve health and well-being
  • Point people to available resources
  • O­ffer social support and informal counseling
  • Advocate for individuals and community health needs
  • Provide services such as first aid and blood pressure screening
  • Conduct home visits to ensure patients are following their course of therapy for their medications
  • Collect data to help identify community health needs.3

Ultimately, the duties of CHWs vary depending upon the employer (hospitals, medical practices, or community health centers) and the community where they work (rural or urban). Most employers require some college, with many seeking CHWs who possess an associate or bachelor’s degree. Salaries range from $35,000–$60,000.

Some of the specialized work activities required of CHWs include:

  • Communicating technical or scientific information
  • Compiling data on human physique, social customs, or artifacts
  • Deciding which psychological tests to administer to clients or patients
  • Identifying interrelationships among individuals or social groups
  • Maintaining awareness of social trends
  • Soliciting support from officials or public.4

Stay tuned for the next installment in this two part series in which I dive into the patient navigator role.



[1] O*NET OnLine, “Summary Report for: 21-1094-00 – Community Health Workers,” referenced October 5, 2013.

[2] Division of Benefits and Coverage, Disabled and Elderly Health Programs Group, Center for Medicaid and CHIP Services. “Medicaid Preventive Services: Regulatory Change”. April 2014, Page 8. referenced January 26, 2016.

[3] O*NET OnLine, “Summary Report for: 21-1094-00 – Community Health Workers,” referenced October 5, 2013.

[4] “Summary Report for: 21-1094-00 – Community Health Workers”, O*NET OnLine accessed November 5, 2013,