Public Health Social Worker Career Information, Jobs, Degrees & Training Programs

Public health social workers assist people struggling with Alzheimer's disease, AIDS, cancer, degenerative diseases, and various other terminal illnesses. They also meet with family members of people coping with these diseases. In addition to treating patients, they also organize support groups for people struggling with similar problems.

The following are branches of public health social work: oncology, renal, nephrology, clinical, case management, and psychiatric social work.

Public health social workers develop care plans, also known as home services, for people preparing to be discharged from a hospital or medical clinic. Many public health social workers collaborate in teams with other medical professionals responsible for evaluating and treating patients. For example, this is often the case when a person is preparing for an organ transplant.

Public health social workers also work with people diagnosed with communicable diseases affecting an entire community. They also conduct research to identify links between physical health and poverty.

These specialists also assist people struggling with relationships, anxiety, and social problems. When domestic or child abuse is suspected, social workers often assist entire families.

Public health social workers advise patients stuck in poverty or struggling to overcome substance abuse. Social workers often specialize in helping people from specific ethnic and cultural backgrounds.


The following are typical responsibilities of public health social workers:

  • Recognize environmental factors halting patient progress by evaluating records or conducting interviews
  • Work directly with patients to resolve problems
  • Conduct research
  • Contribute to public policy initiatives
  • Collaborate with medical professionals to determine a client's medical state
  • Encourage public officials to improve public services
  • Refer clients to psychological and medical professionals
  • Prepare care plans for in-home care prior to a patent's release from a hospital
  • Coordinate patient care and rehabilitation
  • Observe, analyze, and document client progress

Job Characteristics

Public health social workers typically work normal 40 hour work weeks, but it's not uncommon for them to work nights and weekends. They frequently meet with patients at assisted living facilities, hospitals, and personal residences. At some public agencies, social workers are assigned giant caseloads.

To be an effective social worker, you should be empathetic, dependable, a good listener, and have good organizational skills. Most importantly, you should want to help others better themselves.

Employment Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has estimated that job growth for public health social workers will increase by nearly 25 percent through 2016. Since hospitalized individuals are now not typically required to remain hospitalized long, demand for social workers administering homecare services is expected to increase steadily. Growth for social workers assisting the elderly will also increase steadily through the near future as the baby boomers begin retiring.

During 2008, the median salary for public health social workers exceeded $45,000 a year.

Education, Certification, and Licensing

Entry-level public health social work positions can be acquired with a bachelor's degree in social work or related disciplines, such as psychology, counseling, human development, or sociology. However, most organizations prefer hiring social workers with graduate degrees.

Clinical and medical jobs can typically only be obtained with a master's degree. You should earn a doctorate degree if you’re interested in supervisory, training, or hospital administration jobs.

Students enrolled in college-level public health social work programs are typically required to complete statistics, cultural diversity, epidemiology, sociology, human development and behavior, research methodologies, and social policy classes.

Social workers are required to be licensed in every state. Individual requirements differ by state.

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) offers a special designation for social workers fulfilling certain requirements. Social workers running private practices often obtain this designation since many insurance companies only reimburse people receiving services from specialists recognized by the NASW.


Contact these organizations for additional information about public health social work jobs:

  • National Association of Social Workers Association
  • Clinical Social Work association
  • Clinical Social Work Federation, Inc

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