Interprofessional health care model responds to both pandemics

Jul 10, 2020

7188 cswe_SocialWorkResponds_banner_1500x500_v2July 10, 2020

About Social Work Responds

The Association of Social Work Boards, the Council on Social Work Education, and the National Association of Social Workers are committed to collaborating on the range of issues affecting the social work profession and the people and communities we serve.

Follow Up 

Based on previous Social Work Responds emails and calls to action, our organizations want to share critical follow up information.

ASWB: ASWB President Harold Dean, MSW, LCSW, OSW-C, addresses racial injustice and the COVID-19 pandemic in his president’s message in the June issue of ASWB’s association news.

CSWE: CSWE research shows that more than 9 in 10 social work students who had in-person classes move online during the spring 2020 semester would be interested in returning to the classroom this fall. The survey, conducted in partnership with faculty from California State University, Sacramento, Division of Social Work, showed the impact to students when social work education moved online in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Read the results today.

NASW: NASW co-sponsored a “Black Lives Matter: Social Work and the Future of Policing”  congressional briefing on June 30. The event highlighted challenges and solutions for achieving equal opportunity and justice, promoting smart decarceration and eliminating racism. Recording now available.

Interprofessional health care model responds to both pandemics

As we continue to publish Social Work Responds, we are committed to addressing both pandemics—COVID-19 and systemic racism. In reviewing the survey results for topics that our readers asked us to cover in this joint communication, “professional development opportunities” was among the top three concerns. When considering how to approach this topic through the lenses of these pandemics, the subject of interprofessional health care rose to the top for two primary reasons: 1) our three organizations have programs focused on developing social workers trained to join interprofessional collaborative teams, and 2) the interprofessional health care model has been identified as a means to overcome health disparities among populations of color and to reduce health care workforce shortages.

Interprofessional collaboration in health care as envisioned by the World Health Organization provides a framework for policy makers and educators to address workforce shortages such as those illuminated by the COVID-19 pandemic. WHO defines interprofessional collaboration as “multiple health workers from different professional backgrounds work[ing] together with patients, families, carers (caregivers), and communities to deliver the highest quality of care.” The interprofessional health care model provides an integrated approach to treating patients, reducing barriers to accessing care, and improving public health outcomes. The overall benefits include fewer medical errors, reduced hospital readmissions, decreased mortality rates, and increased community access to health care experts across the range of health care disciplines.

For the last 20 years, the interprofessional health care model has been gaining ground and relevance, with collaboration overcoming previous siloed structures that separated nurses and doctors, for example, and did not always recognize the profession of social work within the health care system. Yet social workers have expertise working in settings such as hospitals, making them integral to the interprofessional team. Social workers’ unique knowledge base and skill sets allow them not only to provide clinical care, but also to identify and address social needs that can lead to health care disparities. Social work expertise in a systems approach helps to bridge gaps between health care institutions and community resources, so that patients experience continuity of care when they transition out of the hospital setting. The concept of health care teams should extend to community providers, and social workers are skilled at building strong partnerships.

Through practice resources and trainings, such as the “Integrated Primary Care/Behavioral Healthcare Certificate Program,” NASW supports social workers to develop skills in interprofessional collaboration and articulate their value in health care teams. Over the past 5 years, the Social Work Healthcare Education and Leadership Scholars (HEALS) initiative, a collaboration between NASW and CSWE, has served to advance the education and training of future health care social work leaders in many domains, including interprofessional practice. Through coursework, simulations, and experiential learning, programs are preparing students to work effectively with a diverse array of providers. Social Work HEALS field placement sites engage students in interprofessional practice in settings such as primary care clinics, hospitals, behavioral health organizations, and public health departments. Emerging best practices in interprofessional care delivery models present opportunities to improve the experience of health care providers and improve health outcomes for consumers.

Interprofessional education and practice go hand in hand. Social workers are educated to see how a person’s environment affects their health as much as their behaviors and genetics. A National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine study released last year underscores the importance of integrating social care into the delivery of health care. Among many key items, the report calls for social work education to include social determinants of health and health disparities – and many programs are already doing this. In fact, it is a hallmark of CSWE’s Educational Policies and Accreditation Standards. Still, we have seen the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately affect Black Americans and communities with little access to quality care and services. Social workers alone cannot bring care to these populations, so we need to partner with health care providers and policymakers to bring about needed changes. Beyond curricula in programs that teach this approach to macro social work, programs have emerged to bring professions together.

Students Assist America is one such program where future physicians, PAs, nurses, social workers, dental professionals, public health experts, and more are given chances to work together to ensure that daily operations of the health care system are not crushed by treating waves of COVID-19 patients. The Virginia Medical Reserve Corps partnered with Students Assist America to create opportunities for students who live in the commonwealth to help their communities now, during vaccination efforts, and well into the future once the COVID-19 crisis has passed.

In 2019, professional development options for social workers serving on interprofessional teams became available for the first time through Joint Accreditation for Interprofessional Continuing Education™ after ASWB joined as an associate member organization. Joint Accreditation was founded in 2009 to “establish the standards for education providers to deliver interprofessional continuing education planned by the health care team for the health care team.” Continuing education providers accredited by Joint Accreditation that add ASWB ACE approval to their IPCE credit listings may offer interprofessional CE to social workers. Social work regulatory boards that accept CE accredited through the ACE and Joint Accreditation affiliation increase social workers’ access to high-quality relevant CE that benefits patients and supports the boards’ public protection mission.

As policy makers and health care organizations continue to move toward interprofessional collaboration as a solution to workforce shortages and health care disparities, the social worker on the team will gain stature as the linchpin of the team for the unique skill sets and perspective of holistic healing.


Find out more about interprofessional CE for social workers on the health care team through ASWB’s affiliation with Joint Accreditation.

CSWE has resources for educators to develop courses that focus on macro social work, substance use disorders, as well as a collection of member-submitted videos, readings, and assignments that use the COVID-19 pandemic tin social work education. Check out these free videos, readings, and specialized curricular guides.

Additional health care resources for social workers can be found on the NASW website.


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