Community Health Workers


Education and Training Requirements

High School

Aspiring CHWs should build their skills by taking health, anatomy and physiology, biology, chemistry, mathematics, statistics, computer science, database management, social studies, and psychology courses. Community health workers must be excellent public speakers and writers, so you should take as many English (including writing) and speech classes as possible. Since CHWs serve people (often immigrants) from disadvantaged communities, it’s a good idea to learn a foreign language (Spanish is highly recommended) in order to work with clients more effectively.

Postsecondary Education

There is no standard educational path to become a community health worker. Many CHWs only have a high school diploma, while others earn certificates or associate’s or bachelor’s degrees. Some employers require applicants to have college degrees, but this varies greatly by type of employer, job title, and geographic location. Common degrees for CHWs include health and wellness, health education, health promotion, and public health. A growing number of colleges offer associate’s degree in community health. Typical classes in such a program include:

  • Fundamentals of Medical Terminology
  • Introduction to Psychology
  • Human Body Structure
  • Issues of Diversity
  • Survey of Diseases
  • Nutrition and Disease
  • Public Health Epidemics
  • Mental Health/Substance Abuse
  • Introduction to Community Health
  • Community Health Development
  • Community Health Case Management
  • Introduction To Community Health Research
  • Public Health and Global Societies
  • Introduction to Maternal/Child Health

Once hired, CHWs participate in on-the-job training, which may last anywhere from one to four weeks. Topics include client interaction, data gathering and recording, advocacy strategies, ethics, and special topics (such as working with clients who have Alzheimer’s disease).


Certificate programs in community health, public health, health education, and related fields are offered by colleges and universities. For example, Cincinnati State Technical and Community College in Ohio offers a community health worker certificate to students who complete the following classes: Community Health Worker Training, Health and Wellness Promotion, Cultural Competency for Health and Public Safety Professions, and Community Health Worker Practicum. Enrolling in such a program will provide you with a general introduction to the field and may help you to gauge whether a career in community health is a good fit for your interests and skill set. In some circumstances, a certificate may be the only educational credential that you need to enter the field. Contact schools in your area to learn about available programs.

Other Education or Training

The National Association of Community Health Workers, Association for Community Health Improvement, American Public Health Association, National Association of Community Health Centers, Society for Public Health Education, and other organizations offer continuing education classes and webinars. These educational opportunities allow CHWs to stay up to date on industry trends and build their skills. Community health workers can also take specialized classes in asthma prevention, diabetes management, and other health care–related topics to increase their knowledge base and better serve clients. Additionally, those who feel that their communication skills need improvement might take writing or public speaking classes.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

Community health workers in some states must be certified in order to provide services to clients. Some states operate their own certification programs, while others authorize private providers to create and run the program. The Association of State and Territorial Health Officials reports that state-operated certification programs are available in Arizona, Connecticut, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, and Texas. Privately operated certification programs are found in Florida, Michigan, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Virginia.

Some community health workers choose to receive voluntary certification from the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing. The commission offers the certified health education specialist and master certified health education specialist credentials to applicants who meet educational and experience requirements and pass an examination. Visit for more information on these credentials.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Aspiring CHWs should have experience as a community health intern, volunteer, or part-time worker at a public health agency or organization that provides assistance to underserved communities.

People skills are high on the list of important traits for community social workers. They must be good listeners, empathetic, friendly, caring, kind, nonjudgmental, and compassionate in order to gain the trust of the community—many of whom are elderly, ill, facing financial or other challenges, or have lost faith in the effectiveness of government agencies and the health care system.

Navigating social services and health care systems is challenging, so community social workers must be knowledgeable about how these systems work (including having expertise regarding Medicare/Medicaid—health insurance programs that are administered by the federal government). They must be persistent, resourceful, and creative in order to help clients navigate social services, insurance, and health care bureaucracies, and be able to find solutions to patient needs when it appears that there is no good answer.

Community health workers need strong critical-thinking and analytical skills because they must carefully assess the needs of clients and communities to identify issues, and then find solutions for these needs.

Strong oral and written communication skills are important because CHWs interact regularly with clients, as well as work closely with other community health professionals (including health educators, nurses, therapists, mental health counselors, social workers, and managers). They also need strong presentation skills because they frequently host seminars or otherwise present information orally to clients and colleagues.

Other important traits for CHWs include strong ethics, reliability, patience, a willingness to continue to learn throughout their careers, and a passion for helping others.