Advanced practice doctorate programs examined

Jeane AnastasNASW President Jeane Anastas speaks during the NASW Social Work Policy Institute’s think tank symposium on advanced practice doctorates.

NASW Social Work Policy Institute Symposium

A collaboration of social work leaders, educators and representatives of other health professions recently met to discuss the emergence of social work advanced practice doctorate programs.

The NASW Social Work Policy Institute convened an invitational think tank symposium titled “Advanced Practice Doctorates: What Do They Mean for Social Work Practice, Research and Education?”

More than 60 people attended the event, which was held at NASW’s national office in September.

The topic is important because “we need to remember what all of us share — to make our profession as good as it can be,” said NASW President Jeane Anastas, who moderated a portion of the event.

“Each year, several hundred people pursue doctorate degrees in social work,” said Joan Levy Zlotnik, director of SWPI. While 70 schools offer a research, or Ph.D., focus to their programs, an alternative is to promote the expansion of practice, or DSW, degrees in social work, she said.

Karen Sowers, professor and dean of the College of Social Work at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, said it remains to be seen if development of DSW programs will become a trend.

A rationale for promoting a DSW is the belief that when clinicians want to advance professionally for greater responsibility that they are often compelled to enter administration when their true passion is practice, Sowers explained. Because of this, clients may lose the benefit of experienced practitioners.

Sowers said if DSW programs are developed with an emphasis of not only advanced practice knowledge and skills but also practice-based research, they have the potential for enhancing the research capacity of the profession.

Jeanne Marsh is a professor at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration and president of the Society for Social Work and Research. She said having a DSW is a benefit, as it increases social work’s marketability and competition with other health professions.

The DSW offers greater specialization in advanced social work degrees and it contributes to greater opportunities for specialization and innovation, she said.

Additional speakers noted that a DSW can increase the capacity of social work as it relates to advanced clinical practice, leadership, administration, consultation and teaching.

Representatives from the schools that offer practice doctoral programs in social work at the University of Pennsylvania, Rutgers University and the University of Tennessee offered overviews of student demographics and how their programs function.

Attendees also learned how practice doctorate programs were developed by officials at the American Psychological Association, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, and the American Occupational Therapy Association.

Symposium participants shared some common suggestions for moving forward:

  • Invite input from other organizations that employ social workers, clinicians and educators
  • Investigate setting guidelines for DSW and Ph.D. degrees
  • Obtain information about the career trajectory of DSW graduates
  • Stress the opportunities for DSW graduates to teach practice of social work.

Anastas noted that a potential special section in the Social Work Journal could also address the topic of advanced practice doctorates.

Zlotnik said a report of the symposium will be drafted and posted on the Social Work Policy Institute's website, in coming months.

The event was hosted by NASW, the Council on Social Work Education, the National Association of Deans and Directors of Schools of Social Work, the Association for Baccalaureate Social Work Program Directors, the Group for the Advancement of Doctoral Education, the Society for Social Work and Research, the St. Louis Group, and the Association of Social Work Boards.

Co-sponsors of the symposium were Boston College, Case Western Reserve University, New York University, Ohio State University, Rutgers University, University of Denver, University of Michigan, University of Southern California, and the University of Tennessee.