Becoming a Public Health Social Worker: Job Description & Salary

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What are the pros and cons of a public health social worker career? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming a public health social worker is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Public Health Social Worker Career

Medical (or healthcare) social worker opportunities, including opportunities for public health social workers, are expected to grow faster than other specialties in the field. Read on to learn more about the possible pros and cons of a public health social worker career.

Pros of a Public Health Social Worker Career
Potentially satisfying career opportunity*
Very high growth field (27% growth in employment for healthcare social workers between 2012 and 2022)*
Higher salary than other social work specialties*
Many subspecialties to choose from*

Cons of a Public Health Social Worker Career
High pressure position*
Evening and weekend hours may be necessary*
State licensing requirements*
Transportation requirements for visiting clients*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Essential Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Social workers assist clients by providing support during difficult periods. Social workers specializing in healthcare provide assistance for clients dealing with an illness or disability. They support the psychological and social needs of ill or disabled clients and their families by providing counseling and assistance planning for the care of the patient in the home. Planning for patient care may include arranging home care and medical services or transportation to treatment. Medical social workers may specialize in a segment of the population, such as senior citizens or children. They may work in hospitals, nursing homes, private or government agencies.

Medical social workers who specialize in public health have a special interest in epidemiology and other research-based public health fields. They address medical issues from the population-wide or community-wide levels rather than the individual level. Public health social workers may have job duties that overlap with those of other medical social workers, or they may work in research, administration or healthcare advocacy. Some work for local, state or federal health departments.

Job Prospects and Salary

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the employment for social workers in general was expected to increase by 19% between 2012 and 2022, but those specializing in public health and medical work will experience a 27% increase during the same period (www.bls.gov). The median annual salary for public health and medical social workers as of May 2014 was about $51,930, according to the BLS.

What Are the Requirements?

A bachelor's degree is the minimum requirement for a position as a social worker. A degree program in social work is the typical path for students, but those majoring in sociology and psychology also qualify for some positions. Some employers may prefer public health social workers with a master's degree in social work or public health to qualify for a position. Some universities offer dual Master of Social Work/Master of Public Health programs. Employers offering positions working with a specific patient population may prefer job candidates with experience working with those clients, such as children or senior citizens.

All states require a license to work as a social worker and use the title. The state requirements include education, work experience and passing a state examination. The work experience requirement for license applicants must be under the supervision of a licensed social worker. Social workers may also be required to complete continuing education courses to maintain the state license.

Job Postings from Real Employers

Employers searching for medical and public health social workers prefer candidates with at least a bachelor's degree education and some experience in the field. Job postings may specify the client population and the responsibilities of the social worker. Below are examples of job postings available in March 2012:

• An Ohio employer searched for a social worker to provide case management, support and care assessment for clients with health conditions. Applicants were required to have a minimum of a bachelor's degree in social work, but the employer preferred social workers with a master's degree. In addition, the employer required at least two years of experience managing the medical and healthcare needs of clients. The applicant was required to have at least one year in public health.

• An employer in Connecticut sought a social worker to assess patient needs, provide counseling and electronically document treatment reviews. The posting stated that the candidate must have a master's degree in social work, 2-5 years' experience in counseling and a Connecticut license.

• A Texas employer looked for a healthcare social worker to plan, organize, evaluate, develop and implement patient plans. The employer required a bachelor's degree in social work and 2-3 years of experience in a long-term, acute or sub-acute care environment.

Standing Out in the Field

The courses in a master's degree program provide students with the skills to advance to supervisory positions. A social worker education program also includes an internship requirement, which gives the student an opportunity to gain some experience in the field. The BLS also reports a second language may be helpful for social workers.

Other Careers to Consider

Rehabilitation Counselor

If a career helping individuals with disabilities or illnesses is appealing, but the understaffing and high-pressure environment of a career in public health social work is an obstacle, a career as a rehabilitation counselor may be a better fit. Rehabilitation counselors provide counseling and support services for clients with disabilities or illnesses. The counselor works with physicians, psychologists and therapists to improve the quality of life for clients. Licensing requirements vary by state, but counselors may be required to obtain a master's degree to qualify for licensure.

The BLS reported that as of May 2011, the median annual salary of a rehabilitation counselor was $34,000. The Bureau predicted 28% job growth for rehabilitation counselors from 2010-2020.

Clinical Psychologist

Clinical psychologists diagnose and treat mental disorders. While the education requirement for a clinical psychologist is advanced, with many positions requiring a doctoral degree, the annual median salary in 2011 was higher, at $68,000, according to the BLS. Clinical psychologists with a doctoral degree may work in a private practice, research positions or education. Clinical psychology offers specializations, such as child psychology, health psychology or geropsychology.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Purdue University Global

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master: Psychology/Applied Behavioral Analysis
      • Master: Psychology/Addictions
      • Master of Healthcare Admin
      • MS in Nursing
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor: Human Services/Child and Family Welfare
      • BS in Psychology in Addictions
      • Bachelor: Health Science
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Philosophy in Counselor Education and Supervision
      • EdD in Organizational Leadership - Health Care Administration
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      • MS in Addiction Counseling
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      • Master in Christian Counseling
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    Bachelor's
      • BS in Counseling - Addiction, Chemical Dependency, and Substance Abuse
      • BS in Health Care Administration
      • BS in Health Sciences: Professional Development & Advanced Patient Care
      • Bachelor of Science in Behavioral Health Science
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Regent University

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    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Strategic Leadership - Healthcare Leadership
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      • Master of Arts in Pastoral Counseling
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      • Bachelor of Science in Psychology - Clinical and Counseling Psychology
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    4. Colorado State University Global

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    Master's
      • Graduate Specialization - Healthcare Administration
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    5. Abilene Christian University

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      • Master of Marriage and Family Therapy
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    6. Penn Foster High School

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    High School Diploma
      • HS Diploma
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    7. Sacred Heart University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Social Work - Clinical Specialization
      • Master of Social Work - Community Specialization
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    8. Saint Joseph's University

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    Master's
      • MS in Criminal Justice Behavior Analysis
  • Online Programs Available
    9. Northcentral University

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    Doctorate
      • PhD in Marriage & Family Therapy - Therapy with Military Families
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      • M.A. in Marriage & Family Therapy
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  • Online Programs Available
    10. Colorado Christian University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Counseling, M.A.
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      • Psychology, B.S. - Emphasis in Clinical Counseling

Featured Schools

Purdue University Global

  • Master: Psychology/Applied Behavioral Analysis
  • Master: Psychology/Addictions
  • Bachelor: Human Services/Child and Family Welfare
  • BS in Psychology in Addictions

Which subject are you interested in?

Grand Canyon University

  • Doctor of Philosophy in Counselor Education and Supervision
  • MS in Addiction Counseling
  • BS in Counseling - Addiction, Chemical Dependency, and Substance Abuse

What is your highest level of education?

Regent University

  • Doctor of Strategic Leadership - Healthcare Leadership
  • Master of Arts in Pastoral Counseling
  • Bachelor of Science in Psychology - Clinical and Counseling Psychology

What is your highest level of education completed?

Colorado State University Global

  • Graduate Specialization - Healthcare Administration

What is your highest level of education?

Abilene Christian University

  • Master of Marriage and Family Therapy
  • Master of Marriage and Family Therapy - Medical Family Therapy
  • Master of Marriage and Family Therapy - Child & Adolescent Therapy

What is your highest level of education completed?

Penn Foster High School

  • HS Diploma

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Sacred Heart University

  • Master of Social Work - Clinical Specialization
  • Master of Social Work - Community Specialization

What is your highest level of education completed?

Saint Joseph's University

  • MS in Criminal Justice Behavior Analysis

What is your highest level of education completed?