Why is community health important?
Community health is essential because it addresses the needs of groups that lack access to the healthcare system and suffer from increased instances of medical problems as a result.
These issues can arise due to gender, race, age, economic class, location and cultural factors. The role of community health workers is to understand these complex and interwoven factors to develop strategies that overcome barriers and improve outcomes.
Here are some ways that community health efforts improve access and outcomes for underserved populations:
- Promote preventive medicine and medical checkups to reduce the need for emergency services
- Increase access to immunizations and medications
- Help families understand their risk for certain diseases and offer solutions to mitigate those risks
- Educate the population about wellness steps, such as regular fitness and a healthy diet
- Work with providers to offer health screens and checkups that meet the population’s needs
Community health efforts can also bring about better outcomes because workers are embedded in the community and can get feedback to see if the programs are effective.
Examples of community health programs
So, what does community health look like in practice? Here are some examples of how community health programs can bring about positive change within a population.
- Healthy eating: Some urban areas, such as neighborhoods within southern Los Angeles, are food deserts — places where healthy food is hard to come by. A student-run program called South Los Angeles Corner-Store Conversions sought to get owners of local markets to showcase healthy snacks like fruits instead of chips and candy.
- Community education programs: These efforts seek to improve outcomes for patients by educating them on prevention and disease management. In the River Region of Alabama, for example, a community health group successfully decreased emergency room visits for people with diabetes by more than 50% by offering a program showing them how to set wellness goals and manage their condition at home.
- Healthcare access: Some demographic groups fall behind on childhood immunizations because of a lack of information and access. Health workers may use community-based interventions to increase vaccination rates. Efforts can include holding immunization clinics in convenient community locations or offering home visits from public health nurses to provide and document vaccinations.
- Mental health: Some community programs seek to address the mental health needs of specific communities. For example, the Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic in Washington offers mental health services for local agricultural laborers. The clinics, which are located near the target population, are open evenings and weekends and staffed with workers who can meet the needs of the primarily Spanish-speaking clientele.
The types of programs can vary depending on the needs of a community.
How to work in community health
Community health can be a demanding field in which to work, but it can also be rewarding. And it’s necessary. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that employment of community health workers will grow by 16% from 2021 to 2031. That is more than three times the average growth for all professions.
People interested in community health work can start on their career path by pursuing a degree. According to BLS, the minimum qualification for many public health, health education and community health jobs is a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field, though some outreach workers can start their careers with a high school diploma and on-the-job training.
Community health workers can also get experience by volunteering or finding internships, which can help them develop skills necessary for the face-to-face aspects of community health.
Public health at University of Phoenix
If a leadership role in the public health space or working with a community health program interests you, University of Phoenix prepares students for a variety of roles through its Master of Public Health with a concentration in Community Health Leadership. Through this degree you develop skills to lead programs and initiatives that positively affect people’s health and reduce community health disparities. To begin this program, you need either a bachelor’s degree in a health-related field or a bachelor’s degree and at least three years of full-time work experience in a public health-related role.