Massachusetts Health Care Workforce Center

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health uses the following functional definition of CHWs in all of its community-based contracts. This definition was developed as part of the 2005 workforce survey and report, Community Health Workers: Essential to the Health of Massachusetts.

MDPH Definition of a Community Health Worker

A Community Health Worker (CHW) is a public health outreach professional who applies his or her unique understanding of the experience, language and/or culture of the populations he or she serves in order to carry out one or more of the following roles:

  • Providing culturally appropriate health education, information and outreach in community-based settings, such as homes, schools, clinics, shelters, local businesses, and community centers;
  • Bridging/culturally mediating between individuals, communities and health and human services, including actively building individual and community capacity;
  • Assuring that people access the services they need;
  • Providing direct services, such as informal counseling, social support, care coordination and health screenings; and
  • Advocating for individual and community needs.

A CHW is distinguished from other health professionals because he or she:

  • is hired primarily for his or her understanding of the populations and communities he or she serves;
  • conducts outreach a significant portion of the time in one or more of the categories above; and
  • has experience in providing services in community settings.

CHWs in Massachusetts perform a range of important activities to promote, support, and protect the health of individuals, families and communities. These activities relate to four primary functions of CHWs, which are:

  • Client Advocacy
  • Health Education
  • Health System Navigation
  • Outreach

CHWs work under a variety of job titles. Some of the most widely used job titles for CHWs in Massachusetts are:

  • Community Health Educator
  • Enrollment Worker
  • Family Advocate
  • Family Planning Counselor
  • Family Support Worker
  • Health Advocate
  • Health Educator
  • HIV Peer Advocate
  • Outreach Worker
  • Outreach Educator
  • Patient Navigator
  • Peer Advocate
  • Peer Leader
  • Promotor(a)
  • Promotor(a) de Salud
  • Street Outreach Worker


This information is provided by the Office of Community Health Workers within the Department of Public Health.

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