Social work schools offering alternative job path programs

By Rena Malai, NewsStaff

To boost the employment potential for newly graduated or currently enrolled MSW students, some schools of social work across the U.S. offer dual degrees and nontraditional career path programs that take advantage of the broad spectrum of skills social workers can offer.

“Because of the uncertain economy, shrinking job market, and desire to provide a greater array of MSW internship and employment options, the (University of Southern California) School of Social Work found the need to be creative in identifying these types of opportunities for students and alumni,” said Carrie Lew, USC administrator.

The USC School of Social Work’s nontraditional social work job project gives students a chance to expand their career prospects by finding nontraditional social work internships, or NTSWs, Lew said.

“It was Dean Marilyn Flynn’s vision to move into the ‘nontraditional’ social work job market,” she said. “The project expands employment options for MSWs by exposing them to NTSW internships available in areas that are experiencing growth in today’s challenging economy … ”

Some of these areas are fundraising/fund development, marketing, quality control and social entrepreneurship, she added.

It’s a common misconception that a social worker is limited to just one field of practice, said Florence Chung, a senior business partner for Target Corp.’s assets protection division and a mentor in the USC nontraditional social work project.

“Social workers are trained to think a certain way, and they’re qualified for many fields,” said Chung, who has an MSW. “We can do so many things to impact the community in many different ways, such as working in policy and getting involved with local community outreach opportunities.”

Norma Bravo, who found her internship at Pan American Bank through USC’s project, sees pursuing a nontraditional social work path as opening up new career opportunities. Social work students come from all walks of life, she said, and have the ability to combine their skills and transfer them into nontraditional jobs.

“The idea of a social worker in nontraditional placement is intriguing for many people,” Bravo said. “Management, consulting, financial and life coaching, business-social enterprise, education, human resources, law, marketing and fundraising are some of the nontraditional fields (where) social workers can find employment.”

Dual degrees

Dual degree programs offered at schools of social work are another way to open new career paths for MSW graduates.

From the June 2012 NASW News. NASW members click here for the full story.


  1. Linda, any suggestions for an lcsw-r wanting to break into quality improvement? Where to begin?


  2. Anyone who is interested in becoming a medical social workers can get some excellent training by working for home health or home health hospice. The nurses are usually very willing to talk about medical aspects with the social worker on the case because they know that if the care team is well-educated, the patient will get better care.

    Also, there are weekly care team meetings in which you can learn about the patients’ medical conditions. I am a social worker and when I worked with a hospice, I ended up gaining a lot of knowledge that in turn helped my patients.

    In some states, if you get a job in a specialized area, such as medical social work, but you have no direct experience in it, you may be required to meet with a clinical supervisor. That person will review your work and discuss it with you. This is usually set up and paid for by your company, either with existing staff or it may be contracted out. Either way, this provides more education.

    Since many of these jobs are entry level, you can get hired without prior medical social work experience, you just have to have a social work license.

    Hope this helps.

  3. I just wanted to put my two-cents worth in about whether one has to be poor to help the poor. I think the answer should be obvious. If you are on the edge of not being able to survive (being poor) how can you have anything to give to the poor? When one is poor, one is probably still a hard working person. Often the hours are long and hard. You don’t have anything left over, not money, not time, not energy, (and after awhile, not any good will).

    We need to lose this idea that to be rich is to be evil and to be poor is to be virtuous. The reality is that there are good and evil people who are rich and good and evil people who are poor.

    Also, God wants us to have all our needs met and wants us to prosper financially. How do I know? I read His Word.

    God delights in his children being rich, but he tells us never to forget the poor.

    The idea that being poor is virtuous was promoted by Constantine. He thought it was holy to give your wealth to the church (in other words to give it to him). This promoted two conditions that helped him. It made him richer and it made him more powerful, since poor people are less empowered and not able to object to being treated poorly themselves and they also can’t stop others from being mistreated.

    Wealth is merely an amplifier. It can be used for good or evil. Many who have great wealth have done great evil because they have had the means to do more of what they usually do. Others with great wealth have done great good because they were able to do more of what they usually do.

    Then, isn’t it wise to wish that good people get wealth, because they will use it for good and society will be better for it?

  4. I am a Licensed Clinical Social Worker employed in health care quality. After several decades of clinical practice, I found myself doing Quality Improvement. Social Work education blends well with Improvement Theories and this macro-level practice does help to improve how we deliver health care in a patient and family-centered focus.

    I am disturbed by Gary’s criticism of those professional social workers who earn a good living. I found several colleagues at the NASW Florida Chapter conference who share his same view: if we work with the poor, we must remain in poverty ourselves. I call that pure nonsense!

    NASW is a professional association that advocates for social work jobs and salaries. We are well-educated professionals, and the MSW requires almost twice the number of academic hours, PLUS field placement, than other masters level programs. Do we not deserve to earn a good living? In delivering loving-kindness to our clients, should we not deliver loving-kindness to ourselves?

    It’s no crime to serve people and live well yourself.

  5. Agree with you Gary, a focus on specialization with the population one is interested in would be much more beneficial than diluting the profession with the idea one needs a “dual” degree. For example, medical social work is of interest to many, but how do you start ? Getting a foot in the door is difficult, even at times with internship. Provide programs with the focus and graduate those who come out of school with the medical knowledge, self assurance, and for instance -learned ability to navigate a nursing station, spk to a physician, facilitate discharge. Being an expert in your population interest is key nowadays in SW, or maybe just get an MBA if it looks like too much work.

  6. Gary Bachman, MSSW, LSCW

    Honestly, I find this posting on the NASW Blog rather discouraging. It seems that the call from USC as represented here is to abandon our profesional committment to pursuing matters of social justice and service with vulnerable populations, in favor of one’s own advancement (descent) into the for-profit clinical, business or political realm. This almost feels like a macabre promotion of Ronald Regans’ “trickle down economics.” We all know how that worked. (Don’t we?)

    I’m also reminded of the similarity between the ideas promoted in this blog post to an article authored by Dr. Flynn in 2007 describing the social work mission at USC: “Most social workers don’t work with the poor anymore, but with the mentally ill, in schools, hospitals, substance abuse, and aging… The majority of new social work schools are small, rural, or church-related,training foot soldiers. We need that, and I
    don’t mind supporting that. “But that’s not how we prepare our students.

    We charge so much, we have to prepare
    them for something different and more
    broad. We have a special role as private universities.

    I’m interested in preparing our students
    for the exceptional. When we do place
    them in conventional roles, we train them to
    do exceptional things. … But others are working at Ernst & Young, in management and
    consulting, in public policy … “Private universities have to do training for leadership. If we don’t, we lose the rationale for a certain kind of existence. Once public universities took on the role of public service, private schools had to take on a different role…
    “There’s a trend toward privatization in all facets of human services. No sector remains without a large for-profit sector. We have to train social workers to
    be in those for-profit sectors, helping those sectors to be more humanitarian.”

    Yes. To be more humanitarian, that final saving grace.

    But let’s not linger on the suggestion that such schools “…charge so much, we have to prepare them (social work students) for something different… If we don’t, we lose the rationale for a certain kind of existence.”

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