Students apply to the specialization in the Fall semester (or, for Advanced Standing students, in April before beginning the program). During the first semester of study, students take the standard MSW foundation courses. In the spring semester after their acceptance to the specialization, students enroll in one of the required policy courses. Students who haven’t had work, volunteer, or field placement experience in a health setting are advised to also enroll in SWRK 702: Social Work Practice in Healthcare in their first spring semester in the specialization as one of their SWIHCS electives. In the advanced year of study, students complete a field placement in a health care setting, and take at least one additional course for the specialization, chosen from a list of pre-approved direct practice and macro electives and other courses within and outside of SP2. Additionally, students attend a monthly colloquium series designed to integrate coursework and field placement with professional mentoring and career preparation.


An application is required to the SWIHCS. 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. One of the following policy courses: 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 to fulfill the MSW Policy Option requirement.
  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 to focus on mentorship and case consultation.
  4. Completion of two approved electives. Students must choose 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

*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.

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.

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.

Part-time Students

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. Part-time students apply in the Fall semester of their second year of the MSW program.

Advanced Standing Students

The SWIHCS is not recommended for Advanced Standing students who do not have work or volunteer experience in a healthcare setting, as there is not an opportunity for them to take SWRK 702 prior to beginning the specialization curriculum. The SWIHCS application deadline for Advanced Standing students is April 1. Students will be notified of acceptance to the SWIHCS prior to the Office of Admissions’ April 15 enrollment decision deadline.

SP2 News

Faculty & Research, Global Engagement

International Experts Assemble to Examine, Investigate Public Health and Epidemics

On May 13 and 14, Jennifer Prah Ruger, PhD, and other international scholars and public health experts will assemble in...

Students from the MSSP 797 course in Havana, with instructor Azahara Palomeque

Student Life, Global Engagement

Social Issues Through a Global Lens: SP2 Students Reflect on Their Immersion Experience in Cuba

For students in the Master of Science in Social Policy (MSSP) program at Penn’s School of Social Policy & Practice (SP2), having both a...

Faculty & Research

National Survey Examines Emergency Department Management of Deliberate Self-Harm

How routinely do emergency room staff members properly provide help to individuals who present for self-harm? Do they appropriately assess...

SP2 Student Emily Berkowitz presents at the APPAM Student Conference

Student Life

Students Present Policy Research on Housing, Immigration, Harassment

Four students from the Penn School of Social Policy & Practice (SP2) shared their research across a wide range of...

Discover More