Sample Social Work and Human Services Paper on Core Concepts & Practical Applications

Public Health Social Work:

Core Concepts & Practical Applications


The PHSW Public Health Social Work: Core Concepts & Practical Applications syllabus was a project of the Advancing Leadership in Public Health Social Work Education project at Boston University, funded by a cooperative agreement from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under grant number G05HP31425.


Course Purpose and Description


Approximately half of all social workers are employed in health settings, and that number is expected to substantially increase over the next decade. While most social workers practice clinically, a growing number work in community, public and population health. Important national trends—health reform, health inequities, and the need to address social determinants of health—reflect this change and underscore the importance of adapting social work education for upstream public health-oriented practice in a transforming health environment.


Public health social work (PHSW), one of the oldest continuous forms of social work, is both a sub-discipline and a set of approaches for addressing major health issues through the integrated use of public health and social work concepts, skills and competencies. PHSW has emerged as a particularly relevant framework for conceptualizing how to maximize social work’s health impact. This course, Public Health Social Work: Core Concepts and Practical Applications, (HB727), is designed to introduce core concepts of public health social work, integrate perspectives from the distinct, but related, fields of public health and social work, and provide students with practical skills that can be applied in a variety of settings. The course provides a foundation for understanding, embracing, and communicating about public health social work as a practice discipline and unifying framework within the social work profession. Students will engage in critical thinking, analysis, and application of PHSW to major issues such as social determinants, prevention, health equity, advocacy, and health systems transformation.


Course Summary and Target Student Population


The course is divided into four content sections: 1) Overview and Orientation to Social Work, Public Health, and Public Health Social Work; 2) Six Core Concepts of Public Health Social Work; 3) Practical Applications of Public Health Social Work; and 4) PHSW Synthesis and Integration. This course is appropriate for all MSW students, and for MSW/MPH students at any stage of their program trajectory.


Course Objectives


At the end of this course, students will be able to:


  1. Overview and Orientation to Social Work, Public Health, and Public Health Social Work
  • Discuss social work’s role in health and health care in the current health landscape;
  • Define the differences and similarities between the social work and public health fields, including theories, competencies, skills and frameworks
  • Articulate the history, values, and theoretical pillars of Public Health Social Work (PHSW)
  • Describe value of PHSW in today’s health environment
  1. Six Core Concepts of Public Health Social Work
  • Describe the six PHSW Core Concepts
  • Discuss the intersection of public health and social work in each concept
  • Formulate practice examples highlighting the utility of the concepts to contemporary issues in social work and health
  • Use PHSW core concepts to connect to issues of social justice and ethics
  • Articulate how practice changes when Core Concepts are utilized


  1. Practical Applications of Public Health Social Work
  • Identify components of PHSW in practice including the PHSW Practice Wheel and the Social Work Health Impact Model
  • Apply PHSW approaches to various issues and settings (e.g. suicide, child welfare, substance use disorders)
  • Apply PHSW concepts and approaches across different levels of practice: clinical, macro, and policy, articulating differences in each level
  • Identify and describe challenges associated with interprofessional, cross-sectoral and transdisciplinary application of PHSW
  • Formulate plan for how to utilize integrated skills sets at every level and across a wide range of services and collaborations


  1. PHSW Synthesis and Integration
  • Identify ethical challenges associated with use of two profession’s skill sets
  • Locate and report on professional development opportunities in PHSW
  • Demonstrate competence in applying Core Concepts to recent field practice experiences
  • Organize, design and explain how to apply PHSW approaches to a topic of choice