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. Walden University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • PhD in Clinical Psychology - General
      • PhD in Clinical Psychology - Health Psychology
      • PhD in Clinical Psychology - Teaching Psychology
      • PhD in Clinical Psychology - Forensic Psychology
      • PhD in Clinical Psychology - Industrial & Organizational Psychology
      • PhD in Forensic Psychology - Criminal Justice
    Master's
      • MS in Developmental Psychology - Health & Human Development
      • Master of Social Work (MSW) - Advanced Clinical Social Practice (Standard: up to 2 courses/term)
      • Master of Social Work (MSW) - Military Social Work (Standard: up to 2 courses/term)
      • Master of Social Work (MSW) - Social Work in Healthcare (Standard: up to 2 courses/term)
      • Master of Social Work (MSW) - Social Work with Children & Families (Standard: up to 2 courses/term)
      • MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling - Addiction Counseling
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) - General
      • BS in Psychology - Addictions
      • BS in Psychology - Clinical Mental Health (MS AIM Track)
      • BS in Psychology - Forensic Psychology
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Purdue University Global

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master: Psychology/Applied Behavioral Analysis
      • Master: Psychology/Addictions
      • MS in Nursing
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor: Human Services/Child and Family Welfare
      • BS in Psychology in Addictions
    Certificate
      • Graduate Certificate in Addictions
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Liberty University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • EDD: Community Care & Counseling: Traumatology
      • PHD: Counselor Education and Supervision
      • DMN: Pastoral Counseling
    Master's
      • MA: Addictions Counseling
      • MA: Clinical Mental Health Counseling (CACREP)
      • MA: Human Services Counseling: Addictions and Recovery
      • MA: Pastoral Counseling: Community Chaplaincy
      • MA: Marriage and Family Therapy
      • MA: Pastoral Counseling
    Bachelor's
      • BS: Social Work
      • BS: Psychology: Addiction and Recovery
      • BS: Psychology: Crisis Counseling
      • BS: Psychology - Christian Counseling
      • BS: Religion: Christian Counseling
    Associate's
      • AA: Psychology: Christian Counseling
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Philosophy in Counselor Education and Supervision
      • Ph.D. in General Psychology - Performance Psychology
    Master's
      • MS in Addiction Counseling
      • M.S. in Mental Health and Wellness with an Emphasis in Integrated Health
      • M.S. in Professional Counseling with an Emphasis in Marriage and Family Therapy
      • M.S. in Professional Counseling with an Emphasis in Trauma
      • MS in Professional Counseling
      • M.S. in Mental Health and Wellness
    Bachelor's
      • BS in Counseling - Addiction, Chemical Dependency, and Substance Abuse
      • B.S. in Behavioral Health Science with an Emphasis in Substance Use Disorders
      • BS in Health Care Administration
      • B.S. in Psychology with an Emphasis in Forensic Psychology
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Herzing University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Public Safety Leadership
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Project Management
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Regent University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Ph.D. in Counseling & Psychological Studies - Addictions Counseling
      • Ph.D. in Counseling & Psychological Studies
      • Ph.D. in Counseling & Psychological Studies - Grief Counseling
      • Ph.D. in Counseling & Psychological Studies - Human Services Counseling
      • Ph.D. in Counseling & Psychological Studies - Human Services/Student Affairs
      • Ph.D. in Counseling & Psychological Studies - International
    Master's
      • M.A. in Pastoral Counseling
      • M.A. in Marriage, Couple & Family Counseling
      • MS in General Psychology
    Bachelor's
      • B.S. in Business - HR Management
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • PhD in Marriage & Family Therapy - Therapy with Military Families
      • PhD in Marriage & Family Therapy - Medical Family Therapy
      • PhD in Marriage & Family Therapy - Child and Adolescent Therapy
      • PhD in Marriage & Family Therapy - General
      • PhD in Marriage & Family Therapy - Couple Therapy
      • PhD in Psychology - Mental Health Policy and Practice
    Master's
      • Master of Social Work
      • M.A. in Marriage & Family Therapy
      • MAMFT - Child & Adolescent Family Therapy
      • MAMFT - LGBTQ Couple & Family Therapy
      • MAMFT - Military Family Therapy
      • Master of Arts in Psychology - Marriage and Family Therapy
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Florida Tech

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • BA in Applied Psychology/Clinical Psychology
      • BA in Applied Psychology/Forensic Psychology
  • Online Programs Available
    9. Penn Foster High School

    Program Options

    High School Diploma
      • HS Diploma
  • Online Programs Available
    10. Penn Foster

    Program Options

    Certificate
      • Career Diploma - Home Health Aide

Featured Schools

Walden University

  • PhD in Clinical Psychology - General
  • MS in Developmental Psychology - Health & Human Development
  • Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) - General

What is your highest level of education completed?

Purdue University Global

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

Which subject are you interested in?

Liberty University

  • EDD: Community Care & Counseling: Traumatology
  • MA: Addictions Counseling
  • BS: Social Work
  • AA: Psychology: Christian Counseling

What is your highest level of education?

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?

Herzing University

  • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Public Safety Leadership
  • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Project Management

What is your highest level of education?

Regent University

  • Ph.D. in Counseling & Psychological Studies - Addictions Counseling
  • M.A. in Pastoral Counseling
  • B.S. in Business - HR Management

What is your highest level of education completed?

Northcentral University

  • PhD in Marriage & Family Therapy - Therapy with Military Families
  • PhD in Marriage & Family Therapy - Medical Family Therapy
  • Master of Social Work
  • M.A. in Marriage & Family Therapy

What is your highest level of education?

Florida Tech

  • BA in Applied Psychology/Clinical Psychology
  • BA in Applied Psychology/Forensic Psychology

What is your highest level of education completed?