Supporting Lifelong Learning among Nigerian Community Health Workers through a Targeted Assessment of Training Needs

Rebecca Bailey and Joseph EtonLifelong learning is the ongoing, voluntary, and self-motivated pursuit of knowledge for either personal or professional reasons. It is not confined to the classroom but takes place throughout life and in a range of situations. To develop and maintain the competencies needed to deliver high-quality services, health workers must be lifelong learners. Formal continuing education and training activities can support lifelong learning. Yet to be effective, they must target identified gaps between each worker’s current knowledge and skills and what is actually needed on the job. Training needs assessments provide information to target learning activities toward identified competency gaps and learning needs of specific health workers.

In Nigeria, CapacityPlus collaborated with the Community Health Practitioners Registration Board of Nigeria (CHPRBN) and the Federal Ministry of Health to assess the training needs of community health workers in the South-South region. The assessment focused on globally accepted knowledge, skills, and attitudes for community health practitioners in nine competency domains:

  • Community health workerAnalytics
  • Program planning
  • Communication
  • Culture
  • Community
  • Financial planning and management
  • Leadership and systems thinking
  • Public health science
  • Computers and information technology.

Through structured interviews with a representative sample of practitioners, the assessment identified gaps between required knowledge, skills, and attitudes in the nine competency domains and health workers’ perceived level of confidence in those domains. In addition, the assessment explored the relevance of those competencies to the Nigerian context by asking community health workers to rate the level of importance of each domain to their actual practice. Finally, the analysis identified areas where learning activities are most needed in order to increase community health worker competence and performance.

The assessment found that community health workers had limited access to computers and information technologies—such as laptops, mobile phones, and the Internet to collect, store, and retrieve information—coupled with a low level of confidence in the use of computers. This finding was reflected in a strong need for training in the areas of program and financial planning and management, which typically require the application and use of information technologies. In addition, more than 20% of the health workers interviewed highlighted a need to strengthen their competencies in leadership and systems thinking, public health science, and analytics.

Samuel NgobuaOn November 5, CapacityPlus presented the results of the assessment to the Nigerian Human Resources for Health Forum, which is chaired by the head/director of the Human Resources for Health branch of the Federal Ministry of Health and contains members from professional bodies such as the Nursing and Midwifery Council of Nigeria and CHPRBN as well as donors and implementing partners. The report received wide acceptance by all stakeholders that were present. The findings will be used to define the ideal content and most suitable approaches for continuing education and training linked with CHPRBN’s requirements for relicensure of community health workers.

Participants in presentation of results

Community health workers play a pivotal role in achieving Nigeria’s health goals by providing family planning services (including counseling, administering oral drugs, injectables, and insertion) and HIV/AIDS counseling and rapid testing. The majority of these frontline practitioners are based in rural areas and have little spare time to participate in formal continuing education and training activities. For this reason, the content of these training activities must be strategically targeted at addressing real gaps in needed knowledge, skills, and attitudes. Armed with the findings from this training needs assessment, CHPRBN can support lifelong learning among community health workers by targeting the development of the competencies needed to improve the health of the communities these health workers serve

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Photo 1 courtesy of the authors. Photo 2 by Uko Gabriel Chukwudi (community health worker in Nigeria). Photos 3 and 4 by Joseph Eton (Samuel Ngobua; participants at presentation of the results of the assessment to the Nigerian Human Reources for Health Forum).