Employment Outlook & Career Guidance for Public Health Social Workers

Created by careersinpsychology

Public Health Social WorkerPublic health social workers – sometimes also referred to as medical social workers – help people of all ages in needy communities face the many challenges in their lives, such as dealing with an illness, or with the adoption of a child. Public health social workers work closely with diverse populations, such as the elderly, people with disabilities, children, and people with substance abuse problems.

For these reasons, and many more, it takes a significant amount of education to be successful in this field. Public health social workers with a bachelor’s degree in social work, sociology, or psychology may find entry-level employment, but many positions and employers will require earning a master’s degree.   All states require licensure to practice as a public health social worker.

Public Health Social Worker Career Guidance

According to Dr. Ryan Fuller, a New York licensed clinical psychologist with extensive training in cognitive-behavior therapy, “It is important for all graduates to be realistic about any and all employment opportunities that are available upon graduation. Preparing beforehand, and understanding college loans and the percentage of all graduates employed in a chosen degree field will help students prepare for their future, determine if their salary expectations are reasonable, and allow them to better identify a course of action for their future.”

To find employment as a public health social worker at the entry-level, individuals must earn a bachelor’s degree in social work, although a bachelor’s degree in psychology, sociology or another related field may suffice. Individuals who wish to pursue positions in management or supervision, earn a higher salary, and advance in their career, must earn a master’s degree in social work, psychology, or sociology. It is important to find a program that is accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH).

Master’s and multi-disciplinary degrees in public health may include:

  • Master’s of Public Health (MPH)
  • Master’s of Science in Public Health (MSPH)
  • Master’s of Medical Science in Public Health (MMSPH)
  • Doctoral of Public Health (DrPH)
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Advanced degree prepares graduates with a broad mastery of all areas of public health social work, and methods needed to succeed in this field. Master’s degree programs may be concurrent or consecutive, usually take an additional 2-years beyond earning a bachelor’s degree and are typically offered full- or part-time. Individuals with a MSW or MPH degree might choose concentrations, such as:

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

All states require licensing or certification, which vary from state to state, to work as public health social workers.

Employment outlook for public health social workers is on the rise. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports public health social work jobs will increase by a whopping 11% by 2031, which is much faster than average for all jobs. This is in past due to an aging population and the fact people are living longer. In this way, an education that includes coursework and experience in gerontology may lead to some of the best opportunities for public health social workers.

There are a variety of careers open to those who desire to effect policy change by earning a Master’s of Public Health (MPH) degree, including:

  • Disaster and emergency specialist
  • Non-profit executive director
  • Epidemiologist
  • Clinical research coordinator
  • Water quality planner
  • International health care social worker
  • Public health educator
  • Nutritionist
  • Environmental health scientist

Read more about how to become a public health social worker.

Typical Employment Settings for a Public Health Social Worker

There are currently about 182,000 medical and public health social workers in the US. With employment increasing in this field, people with an interest in social work who have a strong interest in improving the lives of people from all walks of life and diversities, will find tremendous success.

A public health social worker will perform many of the following:

  • Access the need of clients, families, friends and support networks
  • Develop plans to improve the overall well-being of clients
  • Help clients adjust to various challenges, such as illness, divorce and unemployment
  • Work within the community to prevent public health problems
  • Work with government agencies to help people find and receive benefits
  • Respond to crisis situations, which may include natural disasters
  • Follow-up with clients to help improve their future personal situations

The BLS reports that median annual wage for public health social worker is $60,280 as of May 2022, with the top 10% earning more than $87,000 annually (this includes MSW or MPH graduates). Geographic location, education and experience all play a part in determining salary.

Public health social workers can be found in a number of different settings, including:

  • Local, state and federal government agencies
  • Nursing and residential care facilities
  • Family services organizations
  • Elementary and secondary schools
  • Substance abuse facilities
  • General medical hospitals and clinics
  • Private practice
  • Home healthcare
  • Non-profits

Ways a Public Health Social Worker Can Increase Desirability as a Job Candidate and Increase His/Her Salary

An advanced degree, experience, and knowledge gained through internships will help a public health social worker advance to manager, director and supervisory positions, or into a private practice. We provides social work licensure and certification requirements, including exam and education requirements, reciprocity opportunities, and professional connections, for each state. We’ve also listed out requirements by state. Please check out our social worker licensure requirements by state.

Related Social Work Education Guides

Attributes Employers Look for When Hiring a Public Health Social Worker

As with many social worker positions, the normal day for a public health social worker is anything but normal. Many individuals will work a full-time, 40-hour week, and many will work part-time hours. Emergencies may require a public health social worker come into the office or travel to a clients home after hours, on holidays, and on weekends. It can be stressful and demanding work, so a number of attributes are necessary to succeed, without burning out.   These include:

  • Time management skills
  • Organizational skills
  • Problem solving skill
  • Patience
  • Dependability
  • Perseverance
  • Good listening skills
  • Empathy and compassion
  • People skills
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Networking Opportunities and Organizations for Public Health Social Workers

There are many ways for aspiring public health social workers to network, find employment openings, internships, conferences, and gain knowledge and experience through associations and organizations. A few include:

2021 US Bureau of Labor Statistics job market trends and salary figures for healthcare social workers are based on national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed July 2023.