Public Health Social Worker: Educational Requirements

Sep 23, 2019

A career as a public health social worker begins with the completion of a bachelor's degree in social work, psychology or sociology. Social workers are required to be licensed. Those interested in working in public health can also opt to earn a dual master's degree in social work and public health.

Essential Information

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. Social workers can find entry-level employment with a bachelor's degree, but many jobs require master's degree. Licensure is required in all states.

Required Education Bachelor's or master's degree in social work, psychology or sociology; degree level depends on the position
Licensure Required
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028)* 17% (for healthcare social workers)
Median Annual Salary (May 2018)* $56,200 (for healthcare social workers)

Source: *United States Bureau of Labor Statistics

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. 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 2018-2028, with a job growth rate of 17%. The BLS predicted increased opportunities for those social workers with a background in geriatric care in particular. As of May 2018, healthcare social workers' median salary was $56,200.

Public health social workers work with people in the community who are ill or injured, and these social workers may benefit from graduate studies in social work or public health. In addition to completing a degree in a relevant field and obtaining a social work license, public health social workers may be required to speak a second language or meet other specific state guidelines. The BLS expects a much faster-than-average job growth for this occupation in the 2018-2028 decade.

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