Social Work in Health Care Specialization

The U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that, in the coming decade, the availability of jobs in medical social work will grow at a rate higher than for many other professions (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015).  This demand is, in part, predicated on the projected needs of the aging baby-boomer generation as well as provisions in the Affordable Care Act (Andrews, Darnell, McBride, and Gehlert, 2013) and President Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative (Collins and Varmus, 2015) that create roles and opportunities for social workers. The healthcare industry will employ more social work graduates, and with better starting salaries, than other types of organizational and institutional settings (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015).

SP2’s Social Work in Health Care Specialization (SWIHCS) aims to prepare students for successful careers across healthcare-relevant practice settings and with diverse populations and health conditions. This specialization acknowledges the lasting impact of the biomedical model on healthcare service delivery, yet grounds courses and fieldwork in the tenets of biopsychosocial approaches to social work practice. Academic work and field placements provide students in the specialization with an in-depth study of direct and macro practice work with children, families, the elderly, and communities coping with chronic and terminal illness, palliative and end of life care, in addition to skills towards health care advocacy, policy development and evaluation, and interdisciplinary collaboration. Tailored mentoring will support students’ growing capacity to bridge systems of practice, and professional development opportunities will introduce students to interdisciplinary collaboration and leadership skills.

Andrews, C.M., Darnell, J.S., McBride, T.D., & Gehlert, S. (2013). Social work and implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Health and Social Work, 38(2), 67-71.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Social Workers, on the Internet at (visited September 09, 2016).

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Social Workers, on the Internet at (visited September 09, 2016).

Collins, F. S., & Varmus, H. (2015). A new initiative on precision medicine. New England Journal of Medicine372(9), 793-795.


The Social Work in Health Care Specialization is open to all MSW students (clinical and macro), although students without prior work, volunteer, or field placement experience in a health care setting should take SWRK 702 prior to the start of their advanced year in the MSW program. Consequently, the SWIHCS is not recommended for Advanced Standing students without prior healthcare experience since there is not an opportunity for them to take SWRK 702 prior to beginning their advanced year.

Part-time students should be aware that SWIHCS courses can be scheduled at any time, and it is possible that none of the courses required for the SWIHCS will be offered in the evening hours.


Students customize their course of study, with guidance from specialization faculty, by choosing from a wide-range of electives while completing the following requirements:

  1. Health policy course. Students may choose one of the following, which is usually taken as the MSW policy option in the spring semester of the foundation year: SWRK 701: Health and Mental Health Policy, SWRK 798: Social Work Direct and Macro Practice in the Affordable Care Act Era, or SWRK 793: Global Health and Health Policy.
    1. If the decision to complete SWIHCS is made after taking a non-SWIHCS policy course as the MSW policy option in the foundation year spring semester, a student may take a policy option the following year as one of their MSW electives.
    2. Advanced Standing students take a SWIHCS policy course as their MSW policy option in the spring semester.
  2. Advanced Year field placement in a setting that offers exposure to health care social work practice, such as hospitals, nursing homes, and community health clinics.
  3. Participation in the SWIHCS colloquium series, which meets monthly during the advanced year to focus on mentorship and case consultation.
  4. Completion of two approved electives. Students must complete at least two of the pre-approved electives.

Pre-approved Electives

SP2 Electives:

  • SWRK 702: Social Work Practice in Health Care
  • SWRK 724: Developmental Disabilities
  • SWRK 726: Brief Treatment and Crisis Intervention
  • SWRK 737: Bioethics in Social Work Healthcare Settings
  • SWRK 739: Illness and Family Caregiving
  • SWRK 757: Loss through the Life Cycle
  • SWRK 769: Aging: The Intersection of Policy & Practice
  • SWRK 786: Social Work Practice and Trauma
  • SWRK 793: Global Health and Health Policy
  • SWRK 794: Practice with Older Adults and Families
  • SWRK 798: Loss and Crisis Intervention
  • SWRK 798: Brief Mental Health Treatments for Primary Care Settings

Electives outside of SP2*:

  • BIOE 601: Introduction to Bioethics
  • BIOE 552: Cultural Competency: Race, Gender, and Disability in Medicine
  • BIOE 556: Evidence in Bioethics and Health Policy
  • PUBH 501: Introduction to Biostatistics
  • PUBH 505: Public Health Administration and Policy
  • PUBH 521: Program Evaluation in Public Health
  • PUBH 527: Media, Advocacy, and Public Health
  • PUBH 539: Designing Interventions to Promote Health and Reduce Health Disparities
  • PUBH 588: Advanced Leadership Skills in Community Health

Recommended: SWRK 702: Social Work Practice in Health Care

Students who have not had work, volunteer, or field placement experience in a health care setting by the spring semester of their foundation year are strongly encouraged to enroll in SWRK 702 before beginning the specialization in the Fall semester. Students who are accepted into the specialization will receive priority enrollment in this course if they choose to enroll, but it is not an official requirement of the specialization.

*Note: although these courses are pre-approved to count towards the SWIHCS, students must receive permission from their academic advisor before enrolling in a course outside of SP2.

Courses not on the list above, either at SP2 or in other schools at the University, may be approved towards the SWIHCS on an individual basis. Students should contact the specialization director for permission.

Students in the SWIHCS will work closely with the specialization director and their academic advisor to ensure that they choose courses of interest that meet both the specialization and degree requirements. At least one elective must be in the student’s area of concentration (clinical or macro). Clinical concentration students are required to take SWRK 760: Mental Health Diagnostics.

Sample Field Placements

Students in the SWIHCS complete their advanced year field placement in a healthcare setting. Examples of agencies in which SWIHCS students might be placed include, but are not limited to: hospitals, community based health services, education settings, health clinics, public health departments, home health care agencies, hospice settings, health policy organizations, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, disability services, health law services, and youth health services.

Declaration of Intent

There is no application for the SWIHCS, but students must submit their Declaration of Intent to complete the specialization. The Declaration of Intent indicates that students are actively pursuing completion of the specialization and grants them a permit for the SWRK 721: Social Work in Health Care Proseminar in their advanced year (this is a required no-cost/no-credit seminar for students in the SWIHCS program). The Declaration of Intent may be submitted any time until the end of add/drop in Fall semester of the advanced year.

Submission of the Declaration of Intent form does not guarantee a seat in the required or recommended for-credit courses, or a qualifying field placement. It is the student’s responsibility to register for and complete the requirements. If a student is not on track to complete the specialization requirements by the end of add/drop of their final fall semester, their Declaration of Intent will be voided. There is no penalty for not completing the specialization after submitting the Declaration of Intent.

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