Purpose The purpose of this qualitative study was to examine methods of implementation of the community health worker (CHW) model within diabetes programs, as well as related challenges and lessons learned. Methods Semi-structured interviews were conducted with program managers. Four databases (PubMed, CINAHL, ISI Web of Knowledge, PsycInfo), the CDC's 1998 directory of CHW programs, and Google Search Engine were used to identify CHW programs. Criteria for inclusion were: DM program; used CHW strategy; occurred in United States. Two independent reviewers performed content analyses to identify major themes and findings. Sixteen programs were assessed, all but 3 focused on minority populations. Most CHWs were recruited informally; 6 programs required CHWs to have diabetes. Results CHW roles and responsibilities varied across programs; educator was the most commonly identified role. Training also varied in terms of both content and intensity. All programs gave CHWs remuneration for their work. Common challenges included difficulties with CHW retention, intervention fidelity and issues related to sustainability. Cultural and gender issues also emerged. Examples of lessons learned included the need for community buy-in and the need to anticipate nondiabetes related issues. Conclusions Lessons learned from these programs may be useful to others as they apply the CHW model to diabetes management within their own communities. Further research is needed to elucidate the specific features of this model necessary to positively impact health outcomes.