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‘Dual Degrees’ Open New Opportunities

Many Social Workers Combine Profession With Other Specialties

Some discover their social work calling later in life; others say their social work education was a springboard for a new career direction.

Donna Montgomery always knew she enjoyed helping people. But after years of working as a registered nurse in a hospital’s psychiatric department, she noticed the system of treatment was heading in a new direction in the early 1980s.

She said hospital administrators and insurance companies were placing more emphasis on rushing patients through the process. Taking time to learn about the patient as a whole person was no longer encouraged.

“I figured this was not what I was meant to do,” she said.

In her mid-40s, Montgomery decided to make a change. She pursued an MSW while still working as a nurse. She eventually became a licensed social worker who provided outpatient counseling at a psychiatry office in Ohio. Since 2000, she has run her own counseling practice in Kentucky.

“It has worked out perfectly for me,” Montgomery said. “It’s a great combination. I can discuss physical and emotional issues with clients.”

It’s not uncommon for social workers to enjoy varied careers. Some people, like Montgomery, discover their social work calling later in life. Others say their social work education served as a springboard for a different career direction.

Attorney Joe Monahan serves on the NASW National Board of Directors. After he received BSW and MSW degrees, he became executive director of a licensed child welfare agency. From that experience, he became fascinated with law.

“Every time I turned around I was consulting with lawyers,” he said. Monahan enrolled in law school, planning to advocate for people with disabilities, and co-founded the law firm Monahan and Cohen more than 20 years ago. The firm continues to represent clients who work in mental health and child welfare in the Chicago area.

“I have the best job in the world,” Monahan said. “I’m able to use my social work and legal training together. This has given me a different perspective. I look at problems from a holistic point of view. I still use my social work in policy training every day.”

Monahan, who has served on NASW’s Legal Defense Fund board, said his understanding of social work has helped his practice set legal precedents for cases involving same-sex adoption in Illinois, as well as promoting improved standards for family services in the state.

Monahan said his career is a perfect example of how social workers can enhance their social welfare philosophy by obtaining dual degrees. With such a background, “you can have a broader impact in the system you are working with,” he said.

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