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Community Health Workers Then and Now: An Overview of National Studies Aimed at Defining the Field

Rosenthal, E. Lee PhD, MS, MPH; Wiggins, Noelle EdD, MSPH; Ingram, Maia MPH; Mayfield-Johnson, Susan PhD, MPH; De Zapien, Jill Guernsey BA

Journal of Ambulatory Care Management: July/September 2011 - Volume 34 - Issue 3 - p 247–259
doi: 10.1097/JAC.0b013e31821c64d7
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This article compares and contrasts 3 national studies of the US Community Health Worker (CHW) field spanning 15 years. Findings cover 4 areas of overlap among the 3 studies: CHW Demographics, Core Roles and Competencies, Training and Credentialing, and Career Advancement and Workforce Issues. Implications for the future development of research, practice, and policy are discussed. Authors observe that while health care reform has the potential for increasing funding and recognition of CHWs, it is essential that policies support the full range of CHW roles, including CHWs role as change agents, so that CHWs achieve their full potential to improve health outcomes, reduce health disparities, and work for social justice.

Department of Public Health Sciences, College of Health Sciences, University of Texas, El Paso (Dr Rosenthal); Community Capacitation Center, Multnomah County Health Department, Oregon (Wiggins); Arizona Prevention Research Center, Mel and Enid Zuckerman, College of Public Health, University of Arizona (Ingram); Center for Sustainable Health Outreach, University of Southern Mississippi (Mayfield-Johnson); Associate Dean for Community Programs, Mel and Enid Zuckerman, College of Public Health, University of Arizona (De Zapien).

Correspondence: E. Lee Rosenthal, PhD, MPH; Department of Public Health Sciences, College of Health Sciences, University of Texas, El Pass, 79902 (eleerosenthal@utep.edu)

This study is dedicated to the memory of Joel S. Meister, PhD, who was a tireless advocate, researcher, and friend to the Community Health Worker field and who contributed to all of the studies reviewed in this article. The authors thank J. Nell Brownstein, PhD, and Carl H. Rush, MRP, for comments on this article and for their important contributions to the studies under review. They also thank Antonio Furino, PhD, and Agnes Hinton, PhD, and the many others, including CHWs, who participated directly in all three studies. Additionally, the authors thank Lourdes Fernandez, CHW, for contributions to research informing this article and Gail Hirsch for comments on sections of the final draft. Finally, we thank University of Texas, El Paso MPH student Aurora Aguirre for assistance with review of study materials and preparation of this manuscript.

© 2011 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.