NASW Examines Social Work’s Intersection With Public Health

Asua OfosuAsua Ofosu, NASW senior government relations associate, presented “Public Health Social Work in the 21st Century: Linking Policy and Practice” at the American Public Health Association’s 138th annual meeting and exposition, held Nov. 6-10 in Denver.

Ofosu told public health social workers how social work and public health intersect and, to a certain extent, overlap. NASW and the APHA, for example, are both committed to the United Nations’ millennium development goals and the ONE Campaign to end extreme poverty and preventable disease. Also, both are involved in public education campaigns to bring more attention to their respective professions.

Caught in the middle are public health social workers, a role Ofosu says can be hard to define. Nevertheless, experts have attempted a definition. “The major characteristic of public health social work is an epidemiological approach to identifying social problems affecting the health status and social functioning of all population groups, with an emphasis on intervention at the primary prevention level,” Ofosu explained to attendees of her presentation.

Ofosu also noted that many social workers in health care settings have been doing public health social work, though they don’t necessarily call themselves public health social workers. She added: “Some social workers find themselves formally or informally working in prevention due to the needs of the populations they serve, but may not recognize their work as part of public health.”

She highlighted the success of the Tri-County Diabetes Partnership started by Dr. Gil Friedell to help residents of the Johnson, Magoffin and Floyd counties of Kentucky prevent and manage type II diabetes. According to Ofosu, the inclusion of social workers to serve as “community encouragers” is critical to the partnership’s success. They hold educational events, health screenings and support groups and provide case management services, among other things.

“[Friedell] asked social workers to serve as community encouragers because they were from the community, intimately understood the issues facing the community and had the trust of the individuals they were seeking to help,” Ofosu said.

Ofosu also took the opportunity to strengthen the alliance between NASW and public health social workers, whose ranks continue to grow. “Public health social workers are the experts in their field and need to be advocates for their profession,” she said.

She urged attendees to volunteer to serve as a resource to members of Congress and the administration on issues dealing with public health and social work.

Ofosu also called for increased engagement in transdisciplinary research and more co-authoring of publications and expanding publications to non-social work journals.