“Public health social work is based on an epidemiologic approach to preventing, addressing, and solving social health problems. It originated in the early 20th century, drawing upon both social work and public health theories, frameworks, research, and practice. Public health social work is characterized by an emphasis on prevention and health promotion. The field has evolved to become multi-method and interdisciplinary, making it particularly relevant to 21st century practice. Widespread changes on both domestic and international fronts—such as globalization, increased migration, natural and man-made disasters, persistent chronic diseases, and resulting health disparities—are examples of current challenges that benefit from a public health social work approach” (Ruth & Sisco, 2008, p. 1).
Social work and public health overlap historically through their shared missions striving for social justice and improving the community quality of life (Ruth & Sisco, 2008). However, there are distinct differences between the two professions:
- Public health is concerned with the conditions of health for populations (Ruth & Sisco, 2008). It is an interdisciplinary collaboration among professionals working towards the prevention of disease and injury and promotion of overall wellness and good health (American Public Health Association, 2015).
- Social work aims to restore and improve the lives of people and impact environmental conditions to reduce suffering (International Federation of Social Workers [IFSW]; National Association of Social Workers [NASW], 1996).
MSW/MPH programs are the foundation for “transdisciplinary and interprofessional collaboration in the new health care arena” (Ruth, Marshall, Velasquex, & Bachman, 2015, p. 193). Both professions have missions that encompass a broad spectrum and multi-dimensional methods including research, policy analyses, developing programs, providing direct service, and administration (APHA, 2015). On these various levels, collaborations between public health and social work disciplines enhance each profession through an understanding of how the individual interacts within the broader scope of community health (Gebbie, Rosenstock, & Hernandez, 2002). Public health social work (PHSW) also strives to implement innovative practice and program evaluation to move the results of research into action (Ruth & Sisco, 2012) and those who choose to work in PHSW require a unique training program that promotes skills in health education, case management, crisis intervention, screening, brief intervention, research, and advocacy. In addition, PHSW professionals must possess skills in disease prevention and health promotion, and how the life course and social factors impact health status not only for the individual but also the community. Overall, MSW/MPH programs enhance educational experiences for PHSW students by offering a more holistic perspective on disease and illness prevention relevant and needed to ensure positive outcomes for present and future generations (Ruth et al., 2015, p. 193).
American Public Health Association. (2015). What is public health? Retrieved from https://www.apha.org/what-is-public-health
Gebbie K., Rosenstock, L., & Hernandez, L.R. (2002). Who will keep the public healthy? Educating health professionals for the 21st century. Washington, DC: The National Academies Pres.
International Federation of Social Workers. (2000). Definition of social work. Retrieved from http://www.ifsw.org/en/p38000208.html
National Association of Social Workers. (1996). Code of ethics. Retrieved from http://www.socialworkers.org/pubs/code/code.asp
Ruth, B. J., Marshall, J. W., Velásquez, E. E., & Bachman, S. S. (2015). Teaching Note—Educating Public Health Social Work Professionals: Results From an MSW/MPH Program Outcomes Study. Journal of Social Work Education, 51(1), 186-194.
Ruth, B. J. & Sisco, S. (2008). Public health social work. In T. Mizrahi & L. E. Davis (Eds). Encyclopedia of Social Work (20th ed.) (1-11). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Ruth BJ, Sisco S, Wyatt J, Bethke C, Bachman SS, Piper TM (2008). Public Health and Social Work: Training Dual Professionals for the Contemporary Workplace. Public Health Reports. 2008 Vol 123 (suppl 2).
For more information on the MSW/MPH dual degrees programs offered in conjunction with the University of Maryland please visit the following web pages:
For More Information:
Anastasia Booth, MPH
Center for Public Health Social Work Education and Training
525 West Redwood Street, Room 2E11
Baltimore, MD 21201
Phone: (410) 706-7518
Fax: (410) 706-6046