In Conversation with a Community Health Worker

What made you decide to be a community health worker?

I did not decide, the career chose me. I had been doing the work in my community with my church for a while before I realized it had a name. One day a flyer came in from Trinity hospital for a class on asthma education, there was a potential to be hired as a community health worker upon completion of the class. So, I took it and fell in love….and I was like: ‘wow I think I found out what I want to do for the rest of my life’, and the rest is history. I changed paths to do this work, I was an administrative assistant before, and now I am pursuing a master’s in public health. I enjoy what I do. It is not a burden, so I don’t have a problem waking up and going to work.

What are the biggest obstacles CHW face?
People are not knowledgeable with what a CHW is and what they bring to an organization. Once they know, they are typically in favor, so there is an educational component needed to bring light to [community health workers’] value in any health care setting. Sometimes you get push back from nurses and doctors that can make it difficult to get the work done. Our role is to bridge the gap between patient and doctor. We are not clinical, so we are not here to take over what [doctors] do, we are just here to help enforce what they do. Patients have more trust for CHW because we don’t contribute to ‘white coat’ intimidation. We are relatable.

Can you describe an experience you had that made you feel like CHW was the work for you?
It is hard to say because I have so many. Recently, one of my asthmatic patients was able to receive a lung transplant, which is amazing by itself. I had worked closely educating him on all his different asthma medications. He was pretty lost prior to my assistance, and we had gotten pretty close because of it; he even referred me to his brother. He called me only 1 week after his transplant surgery to express his gratitude and how he partially attributed the success of the surgery and recovery to me.

What has it been like working as a CHW during the pandemic?
The biggest struggle has been restructuring programs. Since everything is virtual it is especially hard to engage older adults. I also don’t get to have the face to face attention that I would otherwise be able to give to clients, which makes it hard to make sure everyone is being safe and following guidelines.

How do NHC members contribute to the success of the Trinity’s Community Health department?
I consider the service of NHC members as a great help to me and the entire Community Health department. Without NHC members I don’t think the program would be able to manage the projects alone. You guys come in and you're bright and you have such great Ideas. I give a little bit and tell you to come up with something, and you make it come to fruition. I never really have to worry that they aren’t going to get the service done. I have confidence in being able to let them serve independently. They are doing the service to make sure programs are being carried out and goals are being met.

Any advice for aspiring CHWs?
Go for it! Public health is the way of the future. The service has been so needed during this time. Every problem we are facing, even global warming, is related to public health. There is never a shortage of service. What is more rewarding than to say you were in the public serving with a community, being instrumental in providing resources and getting to see a community thrive? If I had to start over, I would pursue it again.



This blog post was written by NHC Chicago 2020-2021 member Gabriella Rodriguez.

Gabriella is a Health Educator at Advocate Trinity Hospital.