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February 7, 2023

Primary Care Community Health Workers: Roles and Functions

Written by:  Dr. Ali Khan, MD, MPP, FACP  

Primary care is the cornerstone of a functioning healthcare system. Community health workers (CHWs) are an invaluable resource to communities worldwide. They are on the front lines of providing care, education, and support services to meet the needs of vulnerable populations.

These passionate professionals play a vital role in helping patients navigate their own healthcare pathways and ensure they receive comprehensive, tailored services along the journey. From outreach to case management to health promotion activities, there’s a lot that health workers can do in primary care settings.

From providing information and support to connecting people with appropriate medical care and services, let’s explore how primary care community health workers are making a difference in our communities—and why we should be investing more in their incredible roles.

Who Are Primary Care Community Health Workers?

Primary care community health workers play a vital role in bridging the gap between patients and the healthcare system. They are frontline public health workers. They are trained to provide culturally and linguistically competent care.

A Community Health Worker brings an invaluable set of capabilities to the table when it comes to interacting with disadvantaged populations and linking them to support services in their area. With a focus on providing quality care, the responsibilities of a Community Primary Care Doctor change depending on the needs of those they are caring for and the communities they serve.

No matter their specific setting, healthcare workers go about working to improve healthcare services for all.

Healthcare workers can act as patient advocates, educators, case managers, or outreach workers. Additionally, they may provide direct services such as health screenings or blood pressure checks.

If you are interested in becoming a primary care community health worker, there are several things you should keep in mind, like:

  • You must have a genuine desire to help others.
  • You should also be comfortable working with diverse populations.
  • You have good communication skills.
  • You must be able to work independently and be organized in your work
  • Finally, being bilingual is often a plus in this field.

The Roles of Primary Care Community Health Workers

Primary care community health workers play an important role in improving the health and well-being of individuals and communities. They are often the first point of contact for people seeking healthcare services. They play a key role in connecting people to the care they need.

Healthcare workers typically work in primary care settings, such as community health centers, clinics, and doctor’s offices. They may also work in public health departments, schools, or other community-based organizations. Some may even be self-employed.

CHWs typically have a close relationship with the communities they serve. They are familiar with the resources available in their area.

Primary care community health workers perform a variety of tasks, including:

  • Providing direct patient care.
  • Conducting outreach and education activities.
  • Coordinating referrals to other health and social services.
  • Bridging the gap between patients and physicians.
  • Providing support to patients with chronic conditions or those who are at risk for chronic diseases.
  • Providing home visits to patients who are unable to come to a primary care facility for appointments.

The roles of CHWs vary depending on the needs of the individual patient or community. However, all primary care doctors share a common goal: to improve the overall health and well-being of their patients and communities.

Listed below are some of the functions carried out by community healthcare workers in society:

  1. First Point of Contact
    Primary care community health workers play a vital role in supporting patients and families in the primary care setting. Serving as a vital link to the health care system, they are the frontline for patients and their loved ones. They provide a range of services that support the delivery of high-quality, patient-centered care.
  2. They Are Health Educators
    CHWs typically have a broad knowledge of community resources. They can connect patients and families to needed services.
    They also serve as “health coaches” or “patient navigators,” providing education and guidance to help patients manage their health conditions. They ensure you make healthy lifestyle choices, adhere to their treatment plan and navigate the complex healthcare system.
  3. Direct Services
    CHWs may provide direct services such as blood pressure screening or blood glucose testing, and conduct home visits. They can help coordinate care among a patient’s various providers.

How to Become a Primary Care Community Health Worker?

Becoming a Primary Care Community Health Worker (PCHW) is a rewarding role that can make a meaningful impact on the health and wellbeing of your community.

In this role, PCWHs provide services such as health education, screenings, health risk assessments and other health services to help their patients manage their diseases or avoid illnesses.

They work in a variety of settings, from clinics to homes, to ensure quality care for all patients. To become a PCHW, you will need to complete training courses and certification requirements, as well as gain experience in general healthcare topics such as nutrition and psychology.

As a PCHW, you will need to be committed to helping people improve their health. Your dedication and knowledge will also help promote effective health policies in your community.


Primary Care Community Health Workers are essential partners in transforming our health care system and improving the well-being of communities.

Through their roles in providing direct care, advocacy, education, and service coordination, they can make an invaluable contribution to helping individuals and families achieve improved health outcomes.

By understanding the important roles and functions of Primary Care Community Health workers, we can empower them to bring about positive change in communities around the world.


What Is the Job Prospect for Primary Care Community Health Workers?

Community healthcare workers are in high demand. It is estimated that the job percentage will continue to increase over the next decade. If you have a tertiary education and you are bilingual, the job prospects are high for you.

Do I Need a Certification to Become a Primary Care Community Health Worker?

Many employers prefer you hold a degree in healthcare-related programs. But, for some, it may not be required.

How Long Does It Take To Complete a CHW Certification Program?

It depends on your availability for school and the kind of courses you choose. A certification program can be finished in two semesters if you pace yourself correctly.

About the author:

Dr. Ali Khan, MD, MPP, FACP is Chief Medical Officer for Value Based Care Strategy at Oak Street Health, a national network of primary care centers for adults on Medicare.  A board-certified internist, Dr. Khan completed his residency at Yale-New Haven Hospital, where he serves on the clinical faculty. He is a graduate of the Harvard Kennedy School and VCU’s Medical College of Virginia, earning joint MD and MPP degrees as a Harvard Public Service Fellow. As part of Virginia Commonwealth University’s joint BS/MD program, Dr. Khan graduated magna cum laude with University Honors in print journalism.


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