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The Major Distinctions Between Certified Health Education Specialists and Community Health Workers

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What is the difference between a Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES®) and a community health worker?

While both Certified Health Education Specialists (CHES®) and community health workers may be involved in the planning and implementation of various public and private health programs, CHES® and MCHES® training involves more diverse and extensive training in areas of health and wellness. The education requirements, distinctions, on-the-job skills, and roles of health education specialists and community health workers can also vary. We’ve provided an overview of the biggest distinctions between these two job functions.

Education Requirements

While individuals interested in achieving the specialized training offered through certified health education specialist credentialing are required to obtain at least a bachelor’s degree in a health-related program before applying for the CHES® or MCHES® credential, community health workers may pursue a career path without a college degree, although some may choose to do so.

READ MORE: What career can a CHES® have?


Community health workers may obtain degrees related to the healthcare industry, and they often receive on-the-job training which allows them to function as vital members of the community responsible for helping individuals and connecting them with valuable tools and resources. However, they are not certified through a nationally accredited certification program and are not professionally trained to serve as leaders in public health promotion and education.

In addition to differing educational requirements and degrees, another major distinction between community health workers and CHES® is the national credentialing program offered through the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing, Inc. (NCHEC). Because of the ongoing commitment to education and training CHES® and MCHES® receive, employers and government agencies often choose to fill vital health education roles with employees who are certified health education specialist.


Community health workers who choose to pursue a higher education degree related to health or nutrition typically receive education and training which allows them to understand health and wellness programs and to communicate directly with the public. Certified health education specialists, on the other hand, receive formal academic preparation which focuses on research, program design and management, leadership, and health literacy and communications. A CHES® or MCHES® is also often responsible for communicating directly with members of the media as well as government officials in addition to community members.

Certified health education specialists are extensively trained to fulfill a variety of needs encompassing many skills, such as:

  • Accessing the Needs of a Community or Organization
  • Planning Health Promotion Programs and Interventions
  • Implementing Health Education Programs/Interventions
  • Conducting Research and Evaluation
  • Serving as a Resource Person
  • Promoting and advocating for Health and Health Education

While community health workers can obtain certification to become certified public health professionals, certified health education specialists have a wider and more expansive understanding of health education programs and initiatives that allow them to fill leadership positions and have a proactive part in planning and implementing new programs.

READ MORE: What is the difference between a certified public health professional and a certified health education specialist?


Community health workers provide an important service to their communities through informal counseling and support, outreach programs, and through the promotion of health programs like cancer screenings. Their work has a direct impact on community health initiatives which benefit citizens all over the world.

The major distinction between community health workers and certified health education specialists is the level of involvement regarding the implementation and creation of these programs. While community health workers are responsible for fulfilling many duties in order to ensure individuals have access to these programs, CHES® often work behind the scenes to create and implement these programs, which includes gathering research, analyzing data, securing funding and staff, and delivering training and support to those responsible for establishing new initiatives and goals and creating new programs or making improvements to current ones.

READ MORE: What are CHES® required to demonstrate competency in to receive credentialing?

How does health education credentialing and certification help the public?

Each and every individual can identify as one of the following - an employee, a citizen, a community member, a student. In order for public and private health programs and initiatives to function properly with measurable results, well-trained and qualified employees are needed to plan and implement them. Credentialing functions as a "quality assurance mechanism", ensuring that all CHES® and MCHES® are operating with the same skill set on a national level.

READ MORE: Employers Who Hire CHES® and MCHES®

How does health education credentialing and certification benefit employers?

Employers seeking to hire individuals to create, implement, or organize health education programs or to educate members of the community on important health and wellness issues, should hire a CHES® or MCHES®. Nationally accredited credentialing ensures the candidate meets appropriate educational  requirements and has passed a competency-based examination. Certification also shows a commitment to continuing competency, as additional education is required for recertification. Without credentialing, it would be difficult for an employer to know exactly which type of training a potential employee has received.

READ MORE: 3 Reasons to Hire a Certified Health Education Specialist

In addition to showing dedication to their career and health initiatives by seeking to pursue credentialing, CHES® and MCHES® are more qualified to serve as leaders and to create new programs and initiatives than many of their counterparts. Are you an employer looking to fill a position on your team? Learn more about the advantages of hiring a certified health education specialist.


Posted by Jessica Wessner at 10:14

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