In 2015, Kay Perrin, PhD, MPH, joins us as a guest blogger for a series of five blog posts on the topic of the exciting new career field of the Health Navigator. This is the first of five.
As I began to write this series of blogs about the role of health navigators, I asked a few colleagues for advice and suggestions. In these brief discussions, I was asked similar questions. Those queries serve as the outline for this first blog.
What Is a Health Navigator?
As the U.S. health system becomes more and more complex, the term “Health Navigator” is starting to appear in the national media as the newest emerging career. For example, Health Insurance Navigators are employed to assist individuals find their way through the Affordable Care Marketplace. In other venues, Health Navigators are called Community Health Workers or Patient Navigators. However, the general term “Health Navigator” is increasingly used to describe a variety of job descriptions.
Who Is Going to Train the Health Navigators?
The answer to this question is being addressed by two prominent national organizations. First, the League for Innovation in the Community Colleges, which represents over 800 of the 1,100 community colleges, issued the Community College and Public Health Report and the Recommendations (http://www.league.org/ccph). This report details the two prototype curricular models that have been developed with support from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and include the Health Navigator and the Public Health Generalist and Specialization with specializations in health education, health administration, and environmental health designed for transfer to bachelor’s degree programs.
Second, the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH) has made recommendations for several academic degrees and certificate programs to be offered by community colleges. In their November 2014 Community Colleges and Public Health Report, they describe how the new degrees are designed to prepare students to work as health navigators.
What Curriculum and Training Is Involved for Health Navigators?
The two reports recommend that all health navigators at the associate degree level complete the following seven courses:
- Population and Personal Health
- Overview of Public Health
- Health Communications
- Prevention and Community Health
- Healthcare Delivery
- Health Insurance
- Health Information
In addition, the two reports recommend up to nine semester hours of electives with specialized courses focused on specific categories, such as:
- HIV Navigators
- Cancer Navigators
- Pediatric Navigators
- Medicare Navigators
Health Navigators will be trained to assist individuals with limited health literacy as well as the elderly with accessing the maximum array of benefits from community services, clinical care, and health insurance. They may facilitate access to care and follow-up for sick and complicated patients with cancer, HIV, and a range of other complex health problems. In addition, these individuals can assist with identifying and enrolling patients in various health insurance plans including ACA Exchanges, Medicaid, Medicare, and disability services.
What Type of Individual Would Be an Ideal Health Navigator?
Of course, anyone with an interest in becoming a Health Navigator should be encouraged to do so. However, in my personal opinion, I foresee Health Navigators as a slightly older community college student with some life experience. The following example might describe a typical health navigator:
Mary was not a particularly strong academic student in high school, so she attended a vocational training program to become a certified nursing assistant after graduation. She loves her job and has compassion for each patient at the community hospital, but after eight years, she is ready for a change. Mary knows that the hospital pays tuition for their employees, but she was never interested in college until she saw a flyer for the new Health Navigator program offered at the community college. When she talked to the admission advisor, she got excited. Mary knows that becoming a Health Navigator will provide a career path that fits her passion and interests.
What Employment Opportunities Are Available for Health Navigators?
While this need has existed for a long time, until recently there have not been paid positions with well-defined roles. This is rapidly changing. There is now a growing commitment to provide job positions and an emerging strategy for integrating these positions into the health care and public health systems. New funding mechanisms as part of the Medicaid/Medicare 30-day hospital re-admission policy, and the Affordable Care Act have dramatically increased interest in developing the types of paid positions requiring academic Health Navigator education.
The salaries for these positions range from $30,000 to $55,000 per year. The Labor Department estimates that such positions will increase at least 25 percent by 2022 due to the expanding elderly population. It is important to recognize that entry level and supervisory positions are being defined, providing the potential for career advancement. In addition, the two reports recommend that associate degree health navigator programs be designed to allow students to transfer to bachelor’s degree programs in Health Education.
How Can I Obtain More Information about the Emerging Career of Health Navigators?
There are at least two ways to stay connected. First, keep reading this blog. I will be writing about Health Navigators throughout 2015 as new information develops. Second, individuals may visit the website of League of Innovation in Community College (http://league.org/league/projects/ccph/files/Call%20for%20Planning_CCPH.pdf ). They are hosting a series of educational webinars and providing opportunities to seek advice and consulting on program development in 2015.
Kay Perrin, PhD, MPH, is an Associate Professor and Assistant Dean for the Office of Undergraduate Studies at the University of South Florida, College of Public Health. Dr. Perrin’s research focuses on adolescent health with a special interest in teen pregnancy. Dr. Perrin also serves on several community boards in the Tampa Bay Area. Dr. Perrin is the author of three titles from Jones & Bartlett Learning: Principles of Evaluation and Research for Health Care Programs, Essentials of Planning and Evaluation for Public Health (both published in 2014), as well as a forthcoming introductory Health Navigator textbook, available in late 2016. Follow Kay Perrin on Twitter @KayPerrinPhD or watch a webcast of Dr. Perrin’s October 2014 Webinar on Teaching Health Research, Program Planning, and Evaluation.