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Public Health Social Worker: Educational Requirements

Public health social workers work with populations and individuals suffering from ailments or injuries related to community sickness or disaster. They act as counselors and planners for people who need long term care.

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What is a Public Health Social Worker?

Public health social workers are social work professionals who provide support to individuals and populations dealing with and vulnerable to chronic, acute or terminal illnesses. In many cases, they take advisory roles, not only for patients, but also for families and caregivers, helping them to arrange health services in the home and community, from meals-on-wheels delivery to oxygen equipment. Some public health social workers work in interdisciplinary teams, including those who work for hospitals, nursing care facilities, social services agencies and government agencies.

Education for Public Health Social Workers

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), public health social work requires a bachelor's degree in social work, psychology or sociology (www.bls.gov). Individuals seeking graduate-level education might pursue a dual degree program that awards both a Master of Social Work (MSW) and a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree. The degree programs may be consecutive or concurrent, and some are offered full- or part-time to accommodate working professionals pursuing continuing education. Courses might include alcoholism and drug abuse interventions, policy analysis, epidemiology, biostatistics, social work ethics, program development and health economics. Students in an MSW/MPH program might choose from concentrations including:

  • Children's services
  • Child and maternal health.
  • Gerontology
  • Policy
  • Social behavior
  • Mental health
  • Social systems

Every state requires some form of licensing or certification for social work practice. Requirements for licensing vary by states. Although not required for a license, many positions encourage mastery of a second language.

Outlook for Public Health Social Workers

According to the BLS, the job outlook for social workers in healthcare-related fields was predicted to be faster than the average for all occupations from 2010-2020, with a job growth rate of 34%. The BLS predicted increased opportunities for those social workers with a background in geriatric care in particular. As of May 2012, healthcare social workers' median salary was $49,830.

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