5 Careers for a Doctor of Social Work Graduate

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Updated May 24, 2021

After years of working in the field, many professionals, to continue their education and advance their careers, have chosen to attain a doctor of social work degree (DSW). Many of the careers for DSW graduates have been on the rise. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the job outlook for social workers is higher than average, with a 13% growth rate.

The doctorate of social work is a practice degree, undertaken by people who want to work in the field as opposed to the more research-oriented Ph.D. programs. Jobs for social work doctorate graduates include program administrator positions, college professors, mental health clinicians, medical social workers, and field researchers.

[ Read: Top 20 Most Affordable Online DSW Degrees (Doctor of Social Work) ]

The 5 Most Common Doctor of Social Work Careers

  • College Professor
  • Field Researcher
  • Mental Health Clinician
  • Community Program Administrator
  • Medical Social Worker

Here are a few more details about each career.

College Professor

Many students of social work pursue this advanced degree to be able to teach at the postsecondary level, as most universities require a doctorate. Additionally, these institutions typically require professors to complete and publish research in the field. You also may be called upon to provide academic advising services. This is a great career that offers flexibility, good pay and benefits, and time off for professional development and growth.

Field Researcher

This degree requires a solid understanding of the many social issues facing today’s culture. It paves the way for further exploration and analysis of the factors that contribute to social inequality. As a field researcher in the area of social work, you will work on providing solutions to these problems by way of empirical analysis. The need for research in this area continues to grow, especially with the recent uptick of interest in areas like mental health and child welfare.

Mental Health Clinician

Mental health issues are a huge challenge in today’s society. As a graduate of social work, you may opt for a career in counseling and diagnosis and either begin your own practice or work in a clinical setting, like a hospital or university. You will work to address mental health issues and help patients work towards a stable and fulfilling life. According to the BLS, this field is growing at a rapid pace, projected to be 25% through 2029, and offers the opportunity to help others find a more calming and stable life.

Community Program Administrator

In this position, you may work to identify the programs and services your community needs. You may then seek funding for these programs and oversee their administration, as well as analyze their effectiveness. You may work with particular segments of society, such as children, older adults, veterans or the homeless. The BLS projects a faster than average growth rate of 17% through 2029.

Medical Social Worker

As the Baby Boomer generation continues to age, there is an increasing need for medical social workers. In this role, you may provide counseling and information, as well as making referrals, for people and their families who are dealing with a chronic, acute or terminal illness. You may work in hospitals or other health care settings, along with nursing care facilities or with community organizations.

Ph.D. vs. DSW: Aren’t They the Same Degree?

While both the Ph.D. and DSW are doctoral degrees, they have a different focus. The focus of a Ph.D. is on research and the analysis of that groundwork. The coursework may be more theoretical in nature. The DSW is a practice doctorate, geared to people who are more apt to continue working in the field. Courses for a DSW go much more in-depth than continuing education classes or certificate programs. Students pursuing a DSW may have a clinical practice, work in the field or serve as a manager or leader.

How the COVID-19 Pandemic has Disrupted the Social Work Industry 

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many social workers to resort to video meetings or phone calls. While this is more cost effective and has given social workers more flexibility in scheduling, as well as a look at their patients’ living environments, it has not been without its challenges, including concerns about patient privacy. 

However, many people who need the assistance of social workers, including the homeless, don’t have internet or phone access. This has made it difficult for social workers to continue to serve their clients. To overcome this, some social workers have continued to see patients that do not have underlying conditions in person, at a social distance and with both parties wearing personal protective equipment like masks or shields.

How Much Does a DSW Graduate Make?

The earnings for a graduate with a DSW degree vary by the position you take, the amount of education and experience you have, and where you are located.

CareerAnnual Median Salary
College professor$72,070
Mental health clinician$46,240
Community program administrator$67,150
Medical social worker$56,750

While the median pay for a social worker is $56,750, the professionals in the top 10% earned more than $86,130. By location, California has the highest average salary for social workers, at $79,620. The remaining top five areas are the District of Columbia, Oregon, Connecticut, and Nevada. 

The average salary in those four locations ranges from $74,160 to $72,640. Similarly, the cities that pay social workers the most are also in California: Vallejo-Fairfield, San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Salinas, San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, and Napa. The average salary in these five cities ranges from $90,120 to $84,370.

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