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What Is a Healthcare Extender?

Originated by: Susan Eno Collins

Submitted: 11 Apr 2013

Last updated on: 11 Apr 2013

Related Health Topics:


Although doctors play an important role in healthcare, there are many other health professionals that patients encounter as they navigate through the healthcare system. On the front lines of patient care, these professionals work directly with or on behalf of patients. These professionals are a main area of focus for SurroundHealth, and we have adopted the term ‘healthcare extender’ to describe professionals in this type of role. This article will explain in further detail what exactly healthcare extenders are and why they are so important in the changing healthcare landscape.

Which roles does the term encompass?

The CDC explains that “In the United States, healthcare extenders such as pharmacists, community health workers (CHWs), and patient navigators help us meet our national health goals...” There are many other professionals that fall under this term including certified health education specialists, nurse practitioners, registered dietitians (RDs), certified diabetes educators (CDEs), nurses, pharmacists, patient educators, public health professionals, community health workers, and social workers, among many others. No doubt there are other groups emerging as well. A common skill and competency among healthcare extenders is their ability to assist patients in turning the “what” to the “how to.” They specialize in helping people take actions to prevent and manage health conditions, such as making a diagnosis and creating a treatment plan.

Other related terms include extended healthcare team, physician extender, and clinical care extender.

How is the job market for healthcare extenders?

There are many opportunities in the current job market for healthcare extenders, and the demand is increasing. With the Affordable Care Act in motion, millions of uninsured people will be getting health coverage over the next few years, which is expected to create a high demand for people who work in healthcare.

In addition, the US population is aging, which further increases the anticipated job growth for many healthcare extender job categories. For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics is projecting a 26% job growth for nurses and a 30% job growth for physician assistants. For more information on how healthcare extenders are a growing need, visit the HealthEd blog post, “7 Reasons You Need to Get Closer to Healthcare Extenders.”

What settings do health care extenders work in?

Because there are many professions encompassed under this title, healthcare extenders can work in a variety of settings, including:

  • Hospitals
  • Outpatient settings
  • Private practice/Consulting
  • Corporate or work-site wellness
  • Public health
  • And many others

Because of the flexibility of this career path, individuals who pursue it will have a wide variety of opportunities. Healthcare extenders may decide to go in different paths and work in any number of healthcare settings and fields to provide quality patient care.

One major opportunity for healthcare extenders comes from the healthcare transformation. Many healthcare extenders work in a Patient-Centered Medical Home (PCMH)—a primary care practice set up to focus on prevention and a strong partnership between patients and care providers. Another growing setting for these professionals is the Accountable Care Organization (ACO), which consists of providers, practices, and/or hospitals that come together for a team approach to patient care.

How much money does a healthcare extender make?

The salaries for each different profession will vary. Below are some examples from Indeed.com about the average US salary in February 2013 for different healthcare extenders.

  • Pharmacist: $90,000
  • Registered nurse: $86,000
  • Physician assistant: $70,000
  • Social worker: $63,000
  • Public health professional: $61,000
  • Patient educator: $60,000
  • Registered dietitian: $57,000
  • Community health worker: $53,000
  • Nutritionist: $46,000

How do healthcare extenders make a difference?

Every day, in various settings around the country, healthcare extenders are taking on the issues of prevention, treatment, non-adherence, and poor health outcomes. Because healthcare extenders work so closely with patients and communities, they are often the professionals who educate patients and family members.

The CDC also emphasizes their role in controlling chronic illness through education and counseling, as well as communication with providers. Many times, healthcare extenders provide the one-on-one attention that doctors do not have the time for. Their patient-facing positions are what make them a key role in the changing healthcare landscape.


Bellande,B. & Stonner, T. (2010). “Do You Have Healthcare Extenders in Your Brand Plan?” Avant Healthcare Marketing. http://www.avanthcm.com/Avant/media/White-Papers/AvantHCM-WhitePaper-2010-1025-HealthcareExtenders-Part1.pdf

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/DHDSP/docs/Health_Care_Extenders_Indicators.pdf. Accessed: March 2013.

Greene, Jeff. " 7 Reasons You Need to Get Closer to Healthcare Extenders". HealthEd Blog. Typepad. August 8, 2012. http://healthed.typepad.com/healthed-blog/healthcare-extenders/

Hawaii Medical Service Association. (2012).http://www.healthcareplainandsimple.com/understand-health-care/the-future-of-health-care-pcmh.aspx. Accessed: March 2013.

Samojlik, D. “Healthcare extenders: The unsung heroes of healthcare”. Pharmaphorum. April 11, 2012. http://www.pharmaphorum.com/2012/04/11/healthcare-extenders-unsung-heroes-healthcare/

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