Health outcomes depend on a range of factors beyond just medical care. In normal times or during a health crisis, people’s wellbeing depends on factors that include secure housing, access to nutritious food, and reliable transportation. Public health social work plays an important role in ensuring services meet those needs.
Social workers learn the importance of public health social work as part of the core competencies in a quality online bachelor’s degree program in social work. They then apply this experience when working one-on-one with people in real-world situations. This is often in tandem with healthcare operations such as hospitals and community clinics.
It’s an issue public agencies have increasingly made a priority. For example, the Healthy People 2020 program from the federal Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion made creating “social and physical environments that promote good health for all” one of four overarching goals for the decade.
What Is Public Health Social Work?
Research shows good health starts not in a medical setting but in homes, schools, workplaces, and neighborhoods. Smart choices certainly influence good health, including regular exercise, eating healthy foods daily, and avoiding unhealthy habits like smoking or overuse of alcohol.
However, other factors also impact health, many outside of an individual’s direct control. They include social and economic opportunities, good education, and social interactions.
All these areas are part of the important role of social workers today. The term public health social work encompasses the idea that those with expertise in social work can work together with medical professionals to create better health outcomes. It’s something the coronavirus pandemic revealed by shining a light on how social determinants of health have influenced outcomes during the outbreak.
Such social determinants include food security, safe housing, access to healthcare, reliable transportation, quality education, and adequate income.
Social workers have a unique window into this world. Those who focus on public health social work attempt to improve the wellbeing of an entire community. They work on programs that improve overall community health, including health education and linking individuals to the right healthcare services. They take a frontline position on many specific health issues, including the opioid epidemic.
The Role of Public Health Social Workers
As with all social workers, public health social workers must remain flexible in how they approach their jobs based on the needs of the community. The types of challenges communities face can include high unemployment, poverty, homelessness, poor education, crime, and addiction.
In the case of the coronavirus pandemic, social workers focus on educating people on disease prevention, providing reliable information from a trusted source. They also have worked to give those in underserved communities access to protective supplies such as facemasks.
A variety of agencies and medical operations employ social workers. They include hospitals, health clinics, community mental health facilities, local and state health departments, universities, and child welfare agencies.
The National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine reports that “social care workers are key to addressing social needs as a part of delivering health care.” However, the academy writes that more work is needed to integrate social workers into healthcare, adding that there are “persisting disparities in health outcomes among vulnerable subpopulations.” Those subpopulations are defined by age, ethnicity, gender identity, disability status, race, sex, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, family caregiver status, immigrant status, and geographic location.
Social Work Program at Touro University Worldwide
Social justice ranks among the most important values upon which Touro University Worldwide builds all its online degree programs. This extends to the bachelor’s degree program in social work, which encourages students to advocate for social change and a just society.
While the program is 100% online, it contains components that foster growth as a social worker in the field. Students leave the program ready to work in social service, community organizations, and individual families. The program includes coursework that emphasizes social justice and diversity, ethics and social policy, and individual issues such as domestic violence, victim advocacy, child abuse, and drug and alcohol treatment.
In addition to providing the background needed to concentrate on public health social work, the degree prepares students for unique social work careers. Some of these career choices include social and community services manager, substance abuse counselor, and probation officer.