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Careers in Community Health
By Sam MacArthur

The field of community health is a sub-specialty within the broader field of public health and medicine. If you have a keen interest in a career in community health, you likely have an inclination to help others. AS a community health worker, you can professionally help others by coordinating education and outreach efforts in a community setting.

A community health worker job description would include the requirement that a job candidate that is seeking a career in community health have an academic background that includes the following – education or experience in public health, occupation/environmental health, health education, disease prevention & control, plus exceptional interpersonal skills.

Responsibilities of Community Health Careers

Those employed with community health jobs usually possess great knowledge and information regarding the communities in which they serve, with many students seeking an education elsewhere, with plans to return to their native community to serve as a professional community health worker.

Students interested in a career in community health should be aware that some of the duties for positions available to those who wish to pursue community health center careers include –

  • Collecting data and samples for research and analysis.
  • Offering referrals for those community residents in need of food, education, housing, or mental health counseling.
  • Identifying existing and newly discovered health issues.
  • Educating and discussing the ongoing and newly emerging public health issues and the ways to solve them.
  • For example, assisting community residents to understand program benefits and enroll in programs for which they qualify, like Medicare or Medicaid.

Those with community health careers are tasked with the responsibility of disseminating important data and sharing this information with healthcare providers and educators to create better and improved community programs that truly serve the needs of the community residents.

Workers in community health jobs act as vocal advocates, vying to meet community members’ health needs. In addition, they conduct outreach programs and research to assist residents with health system navigation, engage community residents,  and improve overall care coordination.

Community health workers are charged with addressing health concerns that impact members of different sets of populations like –

  • The Elderly and the Infirm
  • Children and Youth Services
  • Veterans
  • Domestic Relations
  • Those who are housing challenged, among others.

In addition, a community health worker works alongside other medical professionals and health care educators by starting a conversation with community members, with the ultimate goal of implementing public health programs that solve existing public health issues in the community.

As a reminder, a community health worker has no medical training and is considered a layperson in this regard.  

Community Health Systems Careers & Education Information

Most community health workers begin at an entry-level position, especially if they only possess a high school diploma or an associate-level degree. However, certain skills or in-depth knowledge regarding the population of the community to be served is considered highly desirable.

An example of this type of working knowledge of a population would include either heritage or background of the population’s culture, or the ability to communicate in the population’s native tongue.

Of course, students can choose to pursue a bachelor’s degree or even a master’s degree, which offers community health specializations and typically, higher salaries and better compensation packages.

Defining a Community Health Major

There are two primary types of majors related to community health. They typically require the completion of  Bachelor of Science (BS) degree – with one primary difference – the concentration chosen with the community health major. Many colleges and universities offer a bachelor’s level degree in community health through the school’s public health schools. These programs are often available as part-time or full-time students, as a hybrid program, or even online.

The two concentrations available for those who wish to earn a baccalaureate degree in Community Health include –

  • A community health major with a focus on education, and
  • A community health major with a focus on Public Health

Many of the community health careers offer sub-specialties that require internships, practicums, and field experiences that allow students to gain real-world, hands-on community health experiences.

Students enrolled in a baccalaureate-level degree with a major in community health can select from coursework that includes classes in –

  • Community health and education
  • Epidemiology 
  • Research for community health
  • Grant writing for community health jobs and workers
  • Community engagement 

Social Policy 

Many Bachelor of Science or Arts degree programs with a major in community health education are available as on-campus programs, online, or hybrid combinations of both delivered formats.

Students enrolled in a BS or BA degree program in Community Health with a focus on social policy will complete coursework in the following classes –

  • Program planning, evaluation, and implementation policies.
  • Community health education and outreach program coordination.
  • Community health program evaluation.
  • Community health program administration and management.
  • Community Group Advocacy and Involvement
  • Health behavior and mental health counseling.

Community Health Certifications & Credentialing

Credentialing is a term that describes the many ways programs, schools, and individuals can be evaluated to determine if the school/individual/program being evaluated meets or exceeds established standards. Other terms for credentialing include licensure, certification, and registration, to name a few.

Within the health education profession, there are a number of credentials available to community health workers. Two of these credentials are offered by the Nation Commission for Health Education Credentialing – the Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES®) and the Master Certified Health Education (MCHES®) certifications.

The National Commission for Health Education Credentialing (NCHEC)

The Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES®) and the Master Certified Health Education Specialist (MCHES®) examinations are both competency exams that assess and interpret an exam taker’s knowledge and professional application of the 7 Health Education Specialist’s Responsibility Areas. 

These credentials – the CHES and MCHES – have, through the application of testing, developed a national testing standard for health education specialists at an entry-level position – with the Certified Health Education Specialist credential and at a more advanced health education level – with the Master Certified Health Education Specialist.

For example, the more basic test – the CHES exam – is typically an exam that is taken during the portion of one’s community health education career. The CHES certification offers validation by a neutral party that the credentialed individual has passed a comprehensive job analysis. The CHES exam is designed for these professional community health education specialists  –

  • Health education specialists who are tasked with direct training or the staffing of community centers.
  • Health education specialists who are tasked with the collection and identification of existing data that is used for program evaluation.

Community Health Degree Careers

There is a large variety of from which to select for jobs with a degree in community health. If you are unsure as to which of the many community health careers are available, it is smart to begin researching by reading each of the community health worker job description for those jobs that are of interest.

Consider this list of careers with a community health degree –

  • Community Health education specialists or coordinators
  • Certified and non-certified diabetes educators
  • Wellness coordinators
  • Public health educators and analysts
  • Patient educators and advocates
  • Community Health Coach
  • Community health advisors, representatives, educators, and promoters
  • Community outreach coordinators and specialists

Community Health Systems Careers Salaries

The federal government’s statisticians at the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that as of May 2019, the median yearly wage for jobs with a degree in community health is $40,360, which translates to $19.41 per hour. According to the statisticians at BLS, the high end of the salary scale for community health careers is $68,350.

In addition, in May 2019, there were nearly 60,000 community health worker jobs in the United States.

The following table reveals those community health careers sorted by the industries with the highest level of employment.

Community Health Jobs – By Highest level of Employment by Industry# of Community Health JobsSalary and Careers in Community Health
Family/Individual Services10,900$39,590 per year
Local Gov’t -no Schools/Medical Facilities9,660$47,150  per year
Outpatient Facilities5,110$42,530  per year
Surgical or Medical Hospital4,720$50,610 per year
Doctor’s Offices3,700$41,010 per year

The following table reveals those community health center careers sorted by the top paying states.

Community Health Worker Jobs – By Top Paying States by Industry# of Community Health Worker JobsSalary and Careers in Community Health
Washington, DC800$62,780 per year
New Mexico860$57,980  per year
North Dakota8$53,890  per year
New Jersey1,110$52,330 per year
Connecticut400$51,610 per year

The following table reveals those community health center careers that have been sorted by the top paying metropolitan areas.

Community Health Worker Jobs – By Top Paying Metropolitan AreasSalary and Career in Community Health
Manchester, NH$72,610 per year
Trenton, NJ$67,000  per year
Savannah, GA$65,130  per year
San Jose/Santa Clara, CA$62,280 per year
Albuquerque, NM$60,730 per year

The following table reveals those community health center careers that have been sorted by the top paying non-metropolitan areas.

Community Health Worker Jobs – By Top Paying Non-Metropolitan AreasSalary and Career in Community Health
Maryland Non-Metropolitan$68,970 per year
Alaska  Non-Metropolitan $57,910  per year
South Central, GA  Non-Metropolitan$57,770  per year
West North Dakota  Non-Metropolitan $52,890 per year
Northwestern Idaho  Non-Metropolitan$50,580 per year

Related Rankings:

Best Cities for Public Health Careers

Best States for Public Health Careers

Government Agencies for Public Health Careers