What Does a Community Health Worker Do? And How Do I Become One

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Discover the role of a community health worker and what it takes to become one, including types of community support, duties and responsibilities, skills, education and experience needed, and salary.

[Featured Image] A community health worker in a green jacket, white top, and a face covering loads prescription medication into a van.

Community health workers (CHWs) are a crucial link between health and social services and the communities they serve. Tasked with facilitating health care access and improving community members’ well-being, they provide an impactful service that has the potential to positively impact the lives of some of the country's most vulnerable groups. 

Many jobs fall under the community health worker umbrella, and the requirements, responsibilities, and experience required to obtain each position vary between roles. In this article, you'll learn more about what community health workers do, their salary and job outlook, and the roles that define the field. You can also explore steps you can take to start joining this impactful profession today. 

What does a community health worker do?

CHWs may support the community through outreach, maternity support, first aid, education, advocacy, and informal counselling. They are frontline public health workers and build effective relationships with the community to bring essential services to the people rather than being based in a formal facility. 

Community health worker salary and job outlook

According to the Canada Job Bank, community health workers make a median annual salary of $24.18 per hour, which equates to $50,273 annually on a 40-hour workweek [1]. Meanwhile, Glassdoor lists the average annual salary for community health workers to be $51,747 [2]. Your salary as a community health worker will likely depend on your location, experience, educational background, employer, and role. 

Canada Job Bank expects the need for community health workers to grow much faster than average. It lists the job prospects for all provinces and territories as either “Moderate” or “Good,” with employment growth leading to new positions nationwide through 2026 [3].

Community health worker skills and responsibilities

A community health worker's responsibilities will vary depending on their position. Regardless of their role, every CHW is fundamentally concerned with advocating for and providing public health assistance to the members of their communities. 

For example, a CHW working as a child advocate will have very different responsibilities from someone working as a community health advisor. Still, both will focus on helping their communities to the best of their abilities and available resources. 

Here are some of the most common responsibilities CHWs share in their various roles: 

  • Building a trusting relationship with the community they represent

  • Helping people understand their health or social conditions  

  • Providing advocacy for those who need it

  • Making home visits to high-risk patients, pregnant or nursing mothers, and the elderly

  • Holding group and individual meetings with people in the community 

  • Delivering health care information in a way that is easy to understand

  • Providing informal counselling

  • Determining eligibility for health care plans

  • Collecting data to inform future programs 

  • Facilitating communication between community members and health and care organizations

Community health worker jobs

Community health worker is an umbrella term that encompasses many other roles. Here are some of the most common community health worker jobs you can expect to encounter in the field:

Community health advocate

A community health advocate works closely with patients undergoing health care treatment to help them understand the process, health care plans, and medication use. They also assist with anything the patient needs concerning insurance and financial support. 

Family advocate

A family advocate works with families to support children’s best interests during parental disputes or cases where children could be at risk. They liaise with family, community care, and other professionals. The family advocate assesses the child’s home life and makes recommendations in court about the child's care and guardianship.

Outreach worker

An outreach worker helps people in the community by liaising between them and any external agencies, groups, or services that they might be able to use. Each has an area of specialism, whether children and young people, the elderly community, or health care. 

Community liaison worker

A community liaison worker interacts with community members on behalf of official organizations, like schools or the police, if it benefits the community member or if there has been an incident. 

How to become a community health worker

CHWs provide critical health care services to some of the most vulnerable communities in the country. They must have the proper training, skills, and experience to handle such an important responsibility. Here are some steps you must take to become an effective community health worker: 

1. Obtain the required educational credentials

Community health workers must gain the necessary training and education to join the profession regardless of their role. However, requirements vary considerably across states and depending on the role. 

Typically, CHWs must have at least a high school diploma and often receive on-the-job training. In some cases, employers might also require a college certificate or community health worker certification through a one—or two-year program. 

Check your province or territory’s requirements to ensure you have the proper qualifications for the job. 

2. Hone the right skills

CHWs help vulnerable communities and individuals achieve essential public health care goals. As a result, it's important to possess the following skills and qualities to ensure you provide the most effective—and empathetic—care:

  • Interpersonal and communication skills

  • Empathy

  • Patience

  • Relationship building skills

  • Time management

  • Knowledge of the community and its needs

In addition to these skills and qualities, excellent community health workers are helpful and curious without being intrusive, allowing people to open up and feel valued. They are also ideally members of the same community as those they serve and speak the same language.

3. Gain relevant work experience

Relevant experience is critically important when meeting public health needs as a CHW. In effect, gaining relevant experience helping specific communities is helpful before becoming a full-fledged CHW. 

For example, anyone working in children’s services must have experience working with children. Similarly, those working with individuals with substance abuse issues would benefit from previous experience working with addicts or recovery programs.

Generally, previous work experience in a public-facing role or supporting individuals will be beneficial. This can consist of paid experience or anything you have undertaken voluntarily, such as caring for a relative, shopping for an elderly neighbour, or mentoring someone at school or in your community. 

Next steps

If you’re considering volunteering as a community health worker, you can learn what it entails through John Hopkins University’s Training and Learning Programs for Volunteer Community Health Workers on Coursera. This is also a great place to start if you’re looking for paid work in this field, as it can help you form a solid understanding of the necessary principles and practices.

You could also consider the University of Michigan’s course on Foundational Skills for Communicating About Health as part of your continued professional development. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Article sources


Job Bank. “Wages Community Health Worker in Canada, https://www.jobbank.gc.ca/marketreport/wages-occupation/296075/ca.” Accessed May 1, 2024.

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