Community Health Workers (CHWs) are essential frontline healthcare workers. They are experts on the communities they serve, the resources they refer to, and the health issues their communities face. But even with their expertise, many find it difficult to advance in their careers.
This struggle is due largely to limited opportunities within the organizations CHWs work. CHWs may be in the same position with the same title and responsibilities for more than a decade. While some are content with this, other CHWs want increased responsibilities, higher job titles, and better pay. When these are missing, there's a higher rate of turnover.
What can organizations, health systems, and nonprofits do to address CHW turnover?
Fund education. Provide formal education opportunities, such as continuing education credits, advanced certifications, and specialty coursework. There are courses on motivational interviewing, CHW supervising, understanding diverse populations, and more. As your CHWs learn new skills and tools, implement their learnings into their roles.
Formalize career paths. In clinical careers, like nursing or lab technology, there is often a "clinical ladder program" for employees. After a certain number of years and certifications, employees meeting the criteria automatically step up into a higher role with more responsibilities and increased pay. This increases employee satisfaction and longevity at the organization. The same idea can and should be implemented for CHWs.
Connect to resources. CHWs spend much of their day connecting clients to resources. But CHWs need resources, too. Our team has a combined 200+ years of experience working as CHWs, and we've worked with many others. We hear and experience first-hand that CHWs have limited to no resources in the workplace, from small things like pens to big things like mentorship. Providing the smaller but vital resources required in an office space makes CHWs feel valued. And formal mentorship programs between CHWs and CHW supervisors can help develop CHWs' skills, capacity, and potential.
These three strategies individually are important. But implementing all three together is essential to addressing CHW turnover rates. Our team is honored to work with hospitals, health systems, physician organizations, foundations, and other organizations to address this issue. If your organization needs change management and process improvement, contact us today.