Community Health Worker

Activities, Skills and Knowledge

Massachusetts actively supports the development of Community Health Workers (CHWs) and their role in the healthcare system.

According to the Community Health Workers in Massachusetts: Improving Health Care and Public Health report, 90% of Community Health Workers report working with people who have a substance abuse disorder (see p. 26).

CHWs play a vital role in community health centers, and visit neighborhoods and people in their homes. See the Massachusetts Community Health Workers Webpage for ongoing updates and contacts.

A Community Health Worker (CHW) is a public health outreach professional who applies his or her unique understanding of the experience, language and/or culture of the populations he or she serves in order to carry out one or more of the following roles:

  • Providing culturally appropriate health education, information and outreach in community-based settings, such as homes, schools, clinics, shelters, local businesses, and community centers;
  • Bridging/culturally mediating between individuals, communities and health and human services, including actively building individual and community capacity;
  • Assuring that people access the services they need;
  • Providing direct services, such as informal counseling, social support, care coordination and health screenings; and
  • Advocating for individual and community needs.
For advocacy and other workforce information, see the Massachusetts Association of Community Health Workers.

A CHW is distinguished from other health professionals because he or she:

  • Is hired primarily for his or her understanding of the populations and communities he or she serves;
  • Conducts outreach a significant portion of the time in one or more of the categories above; and
  • Has experience in providing services in community settings.

CHWs in Massachusetts perform a range of important activities to promote, support, and protect the health of individuals, families and communities. These activities relate to four primary functions of CHWs, which are:

  • Client Advocacy
  • Health Education
  • Health System Navigation
  • Outreach

CHWs work under a variety of job titles. Some of the most widely used job titles for CHWs in Massachusetts are:

  • Community Health Educator
  • Enrollment Worker
  • Family Advocate
  • Family Planning Counselor
  • Family Support Worker
  • Health Advocate
  • Health Educator
  • HIV Peer Advocate
  • Outreach Worker
  • Outreach Educator
  • Patient Navigator
  • Peer Advocate
  • Peer Leader
  • Promotor(a)
  • Promotor(a) de Salud
  • Street Outreach Worker
  • Wellness Coach

Educational Requirements and Opportunities

Vary with jobs. Most require at least a high school diploma, and many also request an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree. According to a Massachusetts report on CHWs, Training and educational opportunities for CHWs vary widely, but the field is beginning to establish certification protocols. The Office of Management and Budget’s 2010 Standard Occupational Classifications (SOC) listing in the Federal Register includes a unique occupational classification for Community Health Worker (SOC 21-1094), which may be useful in looking for jobs.

CHW Training is provided by the following Health Education Centers:

A University of Massachusetts Medical School Certificate in Primary Care Behavioral Health provides training for behavioral health professionals, including Community Health Workers, on working with primary care offices.

In addition, Becker College has a special grant for 2015-2018 to offer two FREE Community Health Worker Certificates on Adolescents and one on Families.  Each is comprised of three, one-credit course.  See General Information and a Description of the Courses.

Licensure/Certification Requirements

None yet, but they are in development.

Check the Massachusetts Office of Community Health Workers and the DPH Board of Certification of Community Health Workers for updates.

See the Licensure/Certification Overview for more general information about licensure and certification.

Opportunities for Advancement

Community Health workers may grow to

  • Provide supervision for CHWs
  • Direct a program, or an agency
  • Get further education and do community health research