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Community health workers (CHWs) interact directly with the public to address the health concerns that affect members of diverse populations (e.g., children, elderly, homeless, veterans). CHWs also assist medical professionals and educators by engaging in dialog with community members, collecting data, and implementing public health programs. Unlike healthcare professionals or health educators, CHWs are laypersons who do not provide direct medical care or training.
The CHW role is considered an entry-level position at most public health organizations - only a high school diploma or associate degree is necessary to start out. Of course, CHWs can pursue specialized careers by obtaining higher degrees. Experience is also key in moving up in this field. Many employers prefer to hire CHWs with a working knowledge of the populations they are working with and place a high value on skills such as second language fluency and cultural expertise.
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Since the CHW role is an entry-level position at many organizations, employers often seek candidates with a high school diploma or associate degree. Professional certificates can be obtained within a single year, while CHW associate degree programs generally take two years to complete. Since the education requirements are minimal, many organizations do not provide funding, internships, or fellowships tailored exclusively for those pursuing a CHW career. If you begin pursuing a bachelor's degree or higher, you will be qualified for more specializations and opportunities within the field of public health.
The majority of your training will occur while you're on-the-job. Most organizations do not expect CHWs to have prior public health experience, however it is preferred that you have some direct experience with the populations your outreach efforts affect. Inform prospective employers if you speak a foreign language or come from relevant demographics, since these backgrounds can be very useful during public outreach efforts.
CHW certification and licensure is optional in most states, however it can increase your chances of gaining employment. Many professional certificate and associate degree programs offered by academic institutions prepare students to take local CHW certification or licensure exams. Some states, such as Texas, Minnesota, Ohio, and Oregon require that CHWs obtain state certification before they are authorized to work. "A Summary of State Community Health Worker Laws," published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, can give you a comprehensive overview of state training and certification requirements.
Unlike CHWs, program coordinators do not usually work directly with community members. Instead, these professionals often oversee the lifespan of public health programs, from early planning processes all the way through implementation and concluding assessments.
Most employers require that program coordinators hold at least a bachelor's degree in public health or a related field. Since these professionals are responsible for program planning and implementation, many organizations prefer candidates that have multiple years of experience working in public health. Candidates generally do not need to receive additional licensure or certification to work in this role.
Rather than working directly with community members, these professionals work on the administrative level to plan, coordinate, and manage family health programs for an organization. As the high-level project managers of health services departments, directors are typically responsible for hiring and allocating staff, overseeing budgets, securing financing and ensuring client service standards are met.
Most director of health services roles require at least a bachelor's degree. Master's degrees are preferred by some employers, depending on the amount of administrative tasks they delegate to directors. Many public health organizations prefer to hire candidates with previous experience in this field, so previous work as a CHW can help qualify you for this position. Some employers prefer to hire directors with professional credentials, such as the Certified Public Health Administrators (CPHA) issued by the Public Health Practitioner Certification Board (PHPCB). You may need to obtain further licensure or certification, especially if you are applying to work at a specialized organization, such as nursing care or assisted living facilities.
Like CHWs, outreach specialists work directly with community members to provide health support and services. However, due to higher education and training requirements, outreach specialists are generally qualified to take on further responsibilities in providing public education, treatment evaluation, and staff supervision.
A bachelor's degree in public health or a related field is usually required for most outreach specialist positions. Some organizations prefer to hire candidates who come from certain demographics or those who have experience working with key populations. These professionals generally do not need to obtain certification or licensure to perform these duties.
Students who wish to explore health issues in at the global level can apply to work at the WHO headquarters in Switzerland or a branch office for up to 12 weeks.
Eligibility: Current graduate or postgraduate students who have earned a degree in health, social science, or administrative fields. Interns must speak the language used at the assigned location.
Terms of Service: Full-time work assignments for 6-12 weeks.
Deadline: Rolling applications process
Interns get the opportunity to choose from over 45 different internship experiences at the American Red Cross headquarters in Washington D.C.
Eligibility: Current undergraduate or graduate students.
Terms of Service: Participants must complete 40-hours of work each week during this 10-week internship.
Deadline: Rolling application deadlines, annual
The Association of Occupational and Environmental Clinics (AOEC) provides interns with the opportunity to train with union or worker organizations on issues of job conditions and employee rights advocacy.
Eligibility: Students who have completed at least two years of undergraduate studies. Graduate students may also apply.
Terms of Service: Interns must attend a three-day orientation in Los Angeles and then complete two months of training with a partner union or worker organization.
Deadline: Mid-March, annual
Interns participating in this 10-week CDC program work closely with the Environmental Health Services branch to observe scientists and senior researchers in assignments based in a number of cities.
Eligibility: Full-time environmental health undergraduates enrolled in their junior or senior years. Graduate students may also apply.
Terms of Service: Interns are designated a CDC guest researcher role. You are responsible for travel and housing costs for the 10-week internship period.
Deadline: February, annual
The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) hosts a 10-week internship for students who wish to tackle public health research and disaster preparation projects at several CDC facility locations in Georgia.
Eligibility: Permanent residents or U.S. citizens with a minimum GPA of 3.0 entering their junior or senior years in a variety of research-oriented majors.
Terms of Service: Participants are considered CDC guest researchers during the 10-week summer internship. You will be expected to perform a number of tasks related to health education, policy advocacy, data tracking, and applied research.
Deadline: January, annual