Strategies for Community Health Advocate: Roles and Responsibilities

A person seated at a table wearing a nametag is having a conversation with two other people.

Navigating the healthcare system can be harrowing, but that is when community health advocates step in to help. Community health advocates (CHAs) make sure that individuals are treated fairly in healthcare systems.

Learn more about what a community health advocate does, their roles and responsibilities, and how to become a health advocate for your community.

What Is a Community Health Advocate?

Community health advocates provide a wide range of services tailored to their community’s health needs.

Role 1: Provider of Direct Assistance to Community Members in Need

Community health advocates often act on behalf of vulnerable people within a community, making sure patients receive adequate care, treatment, and services. They address barriers to care and can provide patients with referrals for safe housing, food support, and mental health services.

For example, community health advocates can help eligible patients enroll in Medicare and Medicaid. Once enrolled, patients can also look to community health advocates for help with health care navigation and coordination between multiple healthcare teams.

Role 2: Mediator Between Patients and People in Power

Community health advocates work as intermediaries between patients and healthcare workers, on the one hand, and healthcare workers and service providers on the other. For example, a community health advocate might collaborate with doctors and health insurance companies to resolve financial issues that are impeding a patient’s treatment.

Role 3: Community Health Expert

To advocate for patients effectively, community health advocates must understand the inner workings of the healthcare systems they operate in. Community health advocates often need to become experts in the specific issues their community faces. They need to:

  • Identify barriers to care
  • Collect data (through surveys, interviews, and other methods)
  • Raise awareness of health-related issues in a community
  • Discuss health concerns with community members
  • Provide education on issues that affect the community’s health

For instance, a community health expert might notice that some eligible residents have not yet received a vaccine to protect them against COVID-19. They may work to understand the specific barriers that are preventing community members from seeking vaccinations, such as distrust of medical research or lack of reliable transportation to a vaccination site.

  • To combat vaccine hesitancy, a community health advocate might demonstrate empathetic listening skills and connect community members to compassionate health professionals in their area.
  • To help patients overcome transportation issues, a community health advocate may coordinate with volunteers who can transport patients to the nearest clinic.

Role 4: Advocate for Education and Policy Reform

Community health advocates often pose solutions to government agencies. With their experience working directly with community members trying to navigate healthcare settings and coordinate care, community health advocates are uniquely positioned to provide guidance on new healthcare policies and regulations.

To improve a community’s overall health and remove barriers to treatment, community health advocates share their research with social service providers and healthcare providers. For example, community health advocates could put pressure on leadership at local health clinics to hire and train more translators to assist ethnic groups currently underrepresented in the healthcare system.

Advocates can also inform health education specialists of gaps in community outreach, leading to better health education programming aimed at a community’s specific needs. Every community is different, so effective educational outreach may come in different forms, including:

  • Town hall meetings
  • Advertising campaigns on radio, TV, and social media
  • Community health fairs
  • Collaborations with local churches and faith communities

Where Do Community Health Advocates Work?

Community health advocates support their communities’ well-being in many different settings.

Community health advocates often work for government agencies, such as state departments of health and local offices for child and family services. But many others work as unpaid volunteers who are passionate about a specific community health population or issue, for example:

  • Environmental determinants of health (e.g., unsafe housing, pollution)
  • Community mental health
  • Reproductive health and family planning
  • Elderly patients’ needs
  • Disability issues
  • Food insecurity

Additionally, community health advocates can work at hospitals, clinics, community mental health organizations, and nonprofit organizations.

Community Health Advocates’ Responsibilities Depend on Context

Community health advocate responsibilities vary. A community health advocate who conducts outreach for an independent nonprofit like the AARP will likely have different daily responsibilities from those of an advocate who volunteers for a children’s oncology support group.

Often, community health advocates are responsible for some or all of the following:

  • Collecting community health data to identify needs
  • Educating people about available healthcare services (e.g., cancer screenings)
  • Offering social support for patients (e.g., check-ins and emotional support)
  • Providing basic health services (e.g., foot checks for diabetics, first aid)
  • Making referrals for food and housing services
  • Sharing data with health educators and service providers
  • Transporting patients to health care appointments

How to Become a Community Health Advocate

Although some are unpaid volunteers, community health advocates typically need more than a high school diploma and on-the-job training to be hired in an official capacity.

Employers prefer applicants with at least a bachelor’s degree in public health, human services, social work, or a related field. Some states have certification programs for community health workers, and employers may prioritize advocates who are also licensed healthcare professionals. Nurses, for example, can work in community health advocacy positions.

Some community health advocacy positions require candidates who are bilingual, to carry out advocacy responsibilities for specific ethnic groups within a community.

According to Zippia, U.S. based community health advocates have an average salary of $32,335 per year. Employment in the role is expected to grow 11 percent between 2018 and 2028, producing over 14,000 new job opportunities.

Community Health Needs Advocates: Will You Answer the Call?

If you are passionate about improving your community’s health and well-being, earning an advanced degree could springboard you to a community health advocate role.

Consider Tulane University’s Online Master of Public Health program, designed with working professionals in mind. Tulane’s Online MPH program offers flexibility for students looking to pursue advanced education while continuing to work full time. Students get the training they need to become competent, compassionate leaders in their field while gaining experience in public health.

Learn more about how Tulane University’s Online MPH program supports graduates as they lead the way toward fair, effective community health.

What Is Healthcare Equity?

How Big Data in Health Care Influences Patient Outcomes

Guide to a Career in Public Health Research

Sources

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Health Education Specialists and Community Health Workers

Washington State Health Advocacy Association, Who Is a Health Advocate

Zippia, Community Health Advocate Overview

ZipRecruiter, What Is a Community Health Advocate and How to Become One