How to Become a Public Health Social Worker

Public health social work can be a rewarding career. Learn the steps you can take to become a public health social worker.

portrait of Ellery Weil
by Ellery Weil

Published on June 22, 2022 · Updated on June 27, 2022

Reviewed by Melissa Russiano, LCSW, LISW

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How to Become a Public Health Social Worker
Image Credit: Halfpoint Images / Moment / Getty Images

If you're interested in pursuing a career in social work and are interested in health and medicine, you may be an ideal candidate to become a public health social worker. Since the coronavirus pandemic, public health's importance has become clearer than ever. In public health social work, you can directly impact the lives of those you work with.

Becoming a public health social worker requires education and other qualifications. Read more to learn what a public health social worker does daily and the steps to becoming a public health social worker.

What Is a Public Health Social Worker?

A public health social worker's job is similar to other social workers. They identify challenges people in vulnerable or at-risk circumstances or with specialized needs face and help to find long-term solutions.

However, what makes public health social work unique is that it involves working with community health problems on all levels (macro, mezzo, and micro), including challenges involving:

State and local governments, hospital systems, and educational systems often employ public health social workers. They work with local communities and analyze long-term health data to point to larger trends and inform policy decisions.

Steps to Become a Public Health Social Worker

The steps to becoming a public health social worker can vary widely depending on a person's location and educational background. Specifically, licensing for social workers can vary by state. Prospective public health social workers should check their state's requirements to become one.

Step 1: Public Health Social Work Bachelor's Degree

Individuals need a bachelor's degree in a relevant field to become a public health social worker. Relevant fields may include psychology, education, biology, and public health. Some colleges and universities offer undergraduate programs in social work (BSW), which can also be an excellent first step towards a public health social work career.

A bachelor's degree may qualify people for some entry-level jobs in public health social work or related fields, such as administrative work in an office that handles public health social work cases. However, to become a public health social worker, people generally need a postgraduate degree.

Step 2: Master of Social Work (MSW) Education

A master of social work, or MSW, is often the ideal postgraduate degree for an aspiring public health social worker. Most MSW programs do not require students to take the GRE. However, a high GRE score may make up for application struggles in other areas, such as a low undergraduate GPA.

When considering which MSW programs to apply to, it may help to look at schools with notable public health programs, as you may work in a related field. Other program considerations include location and cost. MSW programs can be expensive, requiring students to take out student loans. Getting in-state tuition or a social work scholarship can help save money.

Step 3: Supervised Public Health Social Work Experience

With an MSW, people can apply for positions in the public health social work field. These jobs are often entry-level, supervised jobs to help people attain the necessary clinical hours to apply for a license.

Earning clinical hours in a public health-related setting might help individuals get more senior public health social work roles. However, it's not required to earn clinical hours in a specialization area to get licensed.

Step 4: Social Worker Licensure

Once completing the supervised work experience to meet state requirements, it's time to become a licensed social worker. While the licensure requirements vary by state, they generally involve taking the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) exam and completing necessary clinical hours.

Licensed social workers can practice in clinical social work settings and apply for jobs requiring a license.

Step 5: Social Work License Renewal

Becoming a public health social worker doesn't end with licensure. A social work license needs regular renewal to stay active.

Some states might require renewal every 1-2 years. To renew and keep a license current, social workers must fulfill their state's requirements, which can involve work experience, continuing their social work education, or a mix of factors.

Public Health Social Worker Salary and Job Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), social workers earned a median annual salary of $50,390 in May 2021. Healthcare social workers specifically earned a median salary of $60,840 per year as of 2021.

The BLS projects the social work field to grow by 12% from 2020-2030, which is faster than the average of 8% for all U.S. occupations. Healthcare social workers are projected to grow by 13% during the same period, making public health social work an in-demand career to pursue.

FAQs on Becoming a Public Health Social Worker

Can a social worker study public health? true

Yes. An aspiring public health social worker may want to earn an undergraduate degree in public health before getting their master's in social work (MSW). To become a social worker, you'll also need a certain amount of supervised work (the number of hours and the nature of supervision may vary by state) to become licensed.

What does a public health social worker do? true

A public health social worker works with clients on issues involving public health. This can mean educating on disease prevention and chronic illness management, working with the elderly and those with long-term health needs, and managing the health concerns of vulnerable people in a community. Some state and local governments, and hospital systems, hire public health social workers to analyze different types of long-term health data to inform policy decisions.

How do you become a public health social worker? true

To become a public health social worker, you need an undergraduate degree in a field related to social work.This can be a bachelor's in social work (BSW), psychology, public health, or a similar area. You may also need a master's degree in social work (MSW).

Then, you can apply for a job and earn enough supervised hours to apply for your license. Once you have your license, you can work as a public health social worker. You will need to periodically renew it to remain licensed.

Resources for Public Health Social Workers

Check out these sites for more valuable information for an aspiring public health social worker:

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