Public Health vs Social Work

If you have completed a social work degree, you may, at some point, want to take on a position of leadership with increased responsibilities. The issue you will face then, however, is how to do that. There are a number of master’s degrees for you to choose from, with the two most relevant ones being the Master of Public Health (MPH) and the Master of Social Work (MSW). So which one is right for you?

Master of Social Work

When you complete an MSW, you will be able to take on greater leadership positions with a wider scope of work, but you can still concentrate on groups, families, or individuals. In many states, you have to hold an MSW degree in order to be licensed to practice as a social worker, and it is a requirement almost everywhere for those who want to work in clinics or hospitals. With this particular degree, you can generally choose from a number of specializations, effectively setting you on the road for the career of your dreams. Common specializations include:

  • Mental health
  • Families and children
  • COPA (Community organization, planning & administration)
  • Health
  • Social work and business in a global society

Once you have completed your MSW, you will be able to apply for a number of different jobs, such as:

  • Public/medical health professional
  • Substance abuse professional
  • Mental health professional
  • Child welfare professional
  • School social work professional

With an MSW degree, you will become a leader in the world of social work, managing and administrating programs to improve the lives of groups, families, and individuals. Your curriculum will usually include topics such as:

  • Social programs and policies
  • Human growth and development
  • Social research
  • Practice methods

Other courses within your curriculum are likely to be determined by your area of concentration and may include such things as immigrant populations, public policy, and methodology. Additionally, different schools prepare students for different careers, focusing on areas such as social planning and change, or working in nonprofit organizations.

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In order to graduate with an MSW degree, you will have to take part in 900 hours of field related supervised work through a recognized agency. Hence, although many schools now offer their master’s degrees through part time, distance, or online learning, it is not possible to complete 100% of the degree that way.

Master of Public Health

Completing an MPH is a very different educational option. This degree places you on the intersection of the behavioral, the social, the biological, the economic, the political, and the environmental, focusing specifically on how all these issues affect the health of the general public. MPH degree holders are in high demand in nonprofit organizations, the government, NGOs, and public health agencies. Graduates can shape the practice of public health as a whole, instead of offering services to a group, family, or individual.

As with the MSW degree, you can choose from a number of different concentrations depending on the school you enroll with. Common concentrations include:

  • Biostatistics
  • Environmental health
  • Global health
  • Health law, bioethics, and human rights
  • Health policy and management
  • Maternal and child health
  • Social and behavioral sciences

In terms of possible jobs that you can apply for once you hold an MPH, they include:

  • Disaster and emergency specialist
  • Epidemiologist
  • Public health educator
  • Water quality planner
  • Biostatistician
  • Environmental health scientist
  • Nutritionist
  • Infectious disease specialist
  • Clinical research coordinator
  • International health care worker
  • Nonprofit executive director

Generally speaking, the MPH degree is one of the highest regarded degrees in the public health and administration sector. You are likely to obtain a very well-paid job, in which you will hold a great deal of responsibilities for issues that affect public health. As such, you can work in a variety of private, public, and nonprofit fields. Your overall focus will be on disease prevention rather than cure, educating the public about how to achieve better health outcomes.

Students are prepared for this during an extensive curriculum of a number of topics. These usually include:

  • Epidemiology
  • Environmental health sciences
  • Social and behavioral aspects of health
  • Health care systems and financing
  • Program evaluation
  • Biostatistics
  • Law and ethical issues in public health
  • Qualitative and quantitative research methods

Both the MSW and the MPH are designed to ensure you are equipped with the skills and knowledge to improve the lives of entire communities, creating positive changes across the board. The main difference, however, lies in their focus areas. As an MSW graduate, you will ensure groups, families, or individuals are able to connect to different services. As an MPH graduate, you will try to drive change in policy at all levels. Both career options provide you with a great deal of job satisfaction, as you can see the effects of your work on the overall outcomes of real people.

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Both degrees are excellent programs that will set you on the road towards a very rewarding career in which you can make the lives of other people better. The focus is completely different, with the MPH focusing on all health problems, whereas the MSW has to do with resolving personal issues.

MPH/MSW Dual Degree

One other option you have is to complete an MSW/MPH dual degree. This is an opportunity for those who simply cannot choose between the two disciplines to complete them both. The dual degree recognizes that the majority of social workers are closely related to the system of health care delivery, and that they often feel frustrated to not be able to work with entire populations. Furthermore, since the Affordable Care Act, the health care delivery system is changing and there is a greater requirement for social workers within this field.

When you complete the MSW/MPH dual degree, your core curriculum will generally focus on areas such as:

  • Quantitative methods in public health
  • Leadership and management in public health
  • Health systems, law, and policy
  • Individual, community, and population health

Additionally, you will have to choose from a number of different elective courses, which vary from one school to the other, but usually include topics such as:

  • Sex, sexuality, and gender
  • Theory and practice with LGBT populations
  • Community assessment, program design, implementation, and evaluation
  • Human behavior in the social environment
  • Maternal and child health
  • Alcoholism and drug abuse
  • Epidemiology and biostatistics
  • Family violence in society
  • Global health
  • Social work with refugees and immigrants
  • Program management
  • Social perspectives on health and illness
  • Infectious disease
  • Planning and program development
  • Monitoring and evaluation
  • Qualitative research methods
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Social welfare policies

The MPH/MSW dual degree is not offered by many schools yet, but it is becoming more popular. If you do find, therefore, that both areas of work interest you, it is certainly an option to consider. This shows how important it is to properly research the different schools you could enroll with.

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