Public Health Career Guide: Human Services

Help Create a Stronger Future with a Career in Human Services

Those in health and human services professions work to provide just that: they strive to offer the best in health and related services to individuals in their local area, region, state or nation. Human services is helpful to everyone, but is especially targeted to those in our society who need extra help in one form or another. From the social worker who makes sure a struggling family receives food stamps to the health educator who teaches communities about the importance of good nutrition; from the rehabilitation counselor who helps those who have suffered physical trauma to the counselors who help individuals and families who are struggling with a variety of issues, human services careers are a very important calling.

This comprehensive guide to careers in health and human services can help aspiring students gain pertinent information on their chosen profession. Points touched on in this guide include the various careers in human services, what day-to-day life might be like, health and human services salary expectations, the best places to work and the kind of skills that make a difference to those in the field.

What Is Health & Human Services?

Health and human services focuses on the most basic needs of our communities, including the health and well being of individuals and families, assistance with social services as needed, help with preventing and solving problems and striving to provide the highest quality of life possible.

Those interested in a health and human services career must keep in mind that this field is a very broad one, with numerous professions that fall under the human services umbrella. Just as the possible career options are widely varied, so is the education required in order to move into those positions. For instance, those who intend to work as a marriage and family therapist or a mental health counselor must typically hold a master’s degree, yet those who intend to work as a human services assistant might be able to enter a job with only a high school diploma. It is generally accepted that those who have some higher education, especially in a field that is closely related to their career goals, might have an edge in a competitive job market.

Human services workers might find themselves in a variety of work environments, from halfway houses and group homes to government agencies and private practices. The day-to-day work they do is heavily dependent upon where they are employed. For instance, social workers for child and family services might handle cases concerning family issues, including child abuse, neglect and other problematic issues. Someone who works as a correctional treatment specialist might be face-to-face with convicted felons on a regular basis. Those who work as career counselors can often be found in comfortable offices, meeting with students, graduates and recruiters on a regular basis. Though these jobs might have very different aspects of day-to-day work, they are all providing valuable services to the public.

Working In Health & Human Services

Those in health and human services might hold a wide variety of jobs, all dedicated to helping others. The work done depends upon the educational path the worker took to get there, the place of employment, the particular needs of communities in that geographical area and other factors that come into play as a health and human services worker advanced through the ranks. Here is an overview of a few of the more popular professions in health and human services, including typical duties:

Social workers work closely with clients to help them solve specific problems, including providing helpful strategies that might help them modify their behavior or get out of a negative environment.

Counselors might work with a variety of clients who have varied needs, including those who need career help, marriage or family counseling, mental health counseling, or are dealing with drug and addiction issues.

Caseworkers might work in government agencies and help individuals take advantage of social services, such as food stamps or Medicaid and look for additional resources that could help those individuals get back on their feet.

Human service assistants work to support those who need additional help, including those who are suffering from difficult times, whether on a physical, emotional, financial or other level. They work closely with social workers and caseworkers to help individuals get the assistance they need.

Keep in mind that these are simply the most common positions in the field, but this is by no means an exhaustive list. There are numerous jobs in the field that branch out from these and in some cases, they might not be what one would consider a “typical” job in health and human services. Some unusual or unconventional jobs in the field are addressed later throughout the guide.

Interview With A Health & Human Services Professional

When making the decision on whether to enter the health and human services professions, it is important to talk to those who have already taken that path. Jana Davis, BSW, MSW, LCSW, has been in social work for several years and is now a life coach in private practice in Norfolk, Virginia.

What led to your decision to pursue a degree in social work?

I have a deep desire to help others. Although it sounds clichéd, it is a calling and I still feel that today. I learned that Social Workers have a model that considers multiple areas in a person’s life to help assist them and that made sense to me. I majored in Social Work with the goal of becoming a therapist (LCSW).

What is your educational background and how does it apply to your current job?

Education in this field never stops. When your line of work is people, knowledge will never be completed. I have a BSW and MSW. It was the beginning. This field is so broad that universities do their best to prepare students with foundations of Social Work, practical models to use with clients, research applications, policy and ethics. I use the code of ethics, the psycho/social/spiritual model and strengths perspective I learned in college frequently. As years went by post grad, I have learned a plethora of therapies. All LCSW’s do. Not only do we require on-going education credits to keep our license, but we also want to learn more ways to serve our clients.

What does your day-to-day work entail?

There is no such thing as a typical day in this line of work, which makes it so interesting! The clients bring a never-ending array of variation. That said, days consist of seeing clients for individual therapy, couples therapy, groups. There is a lot of paperwork. Every time you see a client, couple or group, there is paperwork to be completed.

When I was just out of college, I was accustomed to writing in detail for papers. I had to quickly change that! Notes, although both necessary and ethical, can be the thorn in this field. There have been many unpaid hours writing session notes. As policies, insurance companies and liability has evolved, the notes have become longer and increasingly redundant.

Any myths you might like to dispel about working in human services?

You will hear that you cannot make money in this field. Some believe that it comes with a silent vow of poverty. Do not underestimate your worth! You can have a marriage of doing what you love to do and make money. There are plenty of LCSW’s who make three figure incomes.

Health & Human Services: Careers On The Rise

There are numerous careers in health and human services that are anticipated to show significant growth from 2012 to 2022, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Some jobs might tend to draw more applicants based on the salary expectations; others might be attractive due to the lower levels of education required. The following are some of the jobs in health and social services that boasted the highest number of workers in May 2010:

jobs in health and social services No of workers in May 2010
Social and Human Service Assistants 130,210
Child, Family and School Social Workers 76,180
Rehabilitation Counselors 50,730
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers 25,410
Mental Health Counselors 24,000

Some jobs are expected to show rapid growth from 2012 to 2022, making them a good bet for those who are looking to move into the health and human services workplace. The following jobs are among those expected to show impressive growth and job openings in the coming years. To put the job growth in perspective, it is important to remember that the average growth for all occupations in the nation is expected to reach 11 percent from 2012 to 2022.

Marriage and Family Therapist

These professionals work closely with individuals, couples and families to evaluate development of relationships and potential problems, addressing issues such as stress, low self-esteem, abuse and the like. They offer a family-centered approach that ensures every member of the family unit receives the attention and assistance they deserve.

Growth: 31%

Salary: $51,690

Mental Health Counselor

These professionals work closely with a variety of groups, individuals, families and couples to deal with a wide variety of issues, including depression, low self-esteem, stress, grief, anxiety and more. They might also help with relationship problems. Mental health counselors might specialize and work with specific groups, such as children or the elderly.

Growth: 29%

Salary: $43,700

Community Health Worker

These individuals work to educate and provide outreach to communities and high-risk populations, collect data on their efforts, report to state and government agencies about the efficacy of various programs, provide social support and advocate for those in the community who need extra help. They might provide referrals and other guidance for human service needs, such as housing, nutrition and more.

Growth: 25%

Salary: $37,640

The career path chosen in health and human services has a great deal of influence on the job openings available, but geography also factors into the bottom line. For instance, social and human service assistants are expected to see growth of 24.7 percent in Alabama, but those in the same job in Illinois will see a slower growth rate of 11.9 percent.

Choosing A Career In Health & Human Services

Health and human services is a broad field that encompasses many professions that help others. With so many options, it can be quite difficult to narrow down the opportunities. This decision tree might help those who are on the fence about what they really like to do and where they might be most effective in the health and human services field.

  • Do you love working with people?

  • Are you health-minded and enjoy teaching others?

    Nutritionist
  • Do you love to do research?

  • Do you prefer to work alone?

    Epidemiologist
  • Do you enjoy research and detective work?

  • Do you get along well with those from all walks of life?

    Social worker
  • Are you a multi-tasker who likes doing a dozen things at once?

  • Do you have great attention to detail?

    Case worker
  • Do you thrive on helping others solve problems?

  • Are you an excellent listener?

    Family counselor

Interesting Careers In Health & Human Services

varied career

When a person considers health and human services, certain careers come to mind: the caseworker at the human services office, for example, or the social worker who helps children and families. But there are several other careers in health and human services that might not be readily evident. A probation officer is one example of a job that might not leap to mind when health and human services is mentioned, but the work they do definitely falls under the umbrella of the overall field.

Here are a few other jobs in human services that might not be evident at first blush. These unique positions might offer excellent job opportunities for those who want a career a bit off the beaten path.

Spotlight On: Home Health Aides

Employment of home health aides is expected to grow by a whopping 48 percent from 2012 to 2022, making it among the fastest growing professions in the nation, according to the BLS.

An aging population has sparked a higher demand for home health services, driven primarily by those in the baby boomer generation who want to stay at home through their golden years. As the cost of nursing home care goes up, home health care becomes a much more attractive option to those who want to hold onto their life savings while still having all the benefits of customized, careful health care. As a result, employment of home health aides is expected to grow by a whopping 48 percent from 2012 to 2022, making it among the fastest growing professions in the nation, according to the BLS.

Those who work as home health aides shoulder a great deal of responsibility for their patients. The majority of their clients are elderly, chronically ill, disabled, or somehow impaired in a way that makes it difficult to live independently. Home health aides might do everything from helping with personal hygiene tasks, such as bathing or dressing, to checking vital signs and arranging transportation to doctor’s appointments. Some provide light housekeeping services and companionship as well.

Home health aides usually work for home health or hospice agencies and therefore must comply with a variety of regulations and work under the auspices of other healthcare professionals, such as registered nurses. Those who work for agencies that receive government reimbursement for services must have state certification or pass a competency examination. Some states offer on-the-job training to those who hold a minimum of a high school diploma, but other states require formal education in order for a home health aide to begin entry-level work. Those who have higher education or formal training usually see the best prospects for advancement.

Health & Human Services Career Toolbox

Those who choose to enter health and human services careers often feel the need to help others and find a means do to so through their work. Some already have certain personality traits that draw them to the positions in health and human services and they build up the required skills through education and experience in the field.

Those who work in any area of health and human services must have top-notch communication skills. This is essential in order to communicate well with colleagues and those who are seeking assistance, as well as for writing reports and giving presentations. The ability to research extensively is also important, as many case workers and social workers find that nuanced information can be found when they do enough digging into a particular situation. Strong management skills, the ability to find adequate resources, a knack for cutting through red tape and a compassionate view are all an integral part of the skill set of someone who works in health and human services.

Having the right skills not only makes a more effective advocate; it can also lead to higher salaries. For instance, social workers should have many of the basic skills listed above, but they should also have certain traits, skills and knowledge that can help them climb the salary ladder. According to Payscale.com, those with the following skills made an average percentage higher than the national average wage:

  • Home health/home care 31%
  • Hospice 18%
  • Group therapy 18%
  • Psychiatric 17%
  • Bereavement counseling 15%
  • Assessment 14%

Keep in mind that the skills required might be very specific to the job at hand. Compare the following skills necessary for higher salaries for caseworkers in social service departments, versus the skills just listed for social workers:

  • Counseling 8%
  • Spanish language 6%
  • Case management 3%
  • Microsoft Office 3%
  • Child advocacy 1%

One point that tends to be the same for any profession in health and human services is that years of experience usually translates into higher pay. For example, a clinical social worker who has more than 20 years of experience can expect to make 23 percent higher than the national average, while entry-level workers can expect to make 10 percent less than the average; the same is true for a mental health counselor, who might make 28 percent higher than the average after 20 years of experience, while entry-level workers make 6 percent less than the national average wage.

Those who work in health and human services can build up their skills and knowledge through hands-on experience in the profession, as well as continuing education classes or certifications that give them a boost in advancement. In addition, those who are serious about improving their skill set could look into earning a higher degree than what they currently hold.

Health & Human Services Salary

Given that the health and human services field is enormous, those who work in it might have widely varied educational backgrounds and experience. A home health aide, for example, might hold only a high school diploma and formal training, while a social worker might have a bachelor’s degree and a psychologist would hold a PhD. With such variety in experience and education, it makes sense that the salaries under the health and human services umbrella are widely varied as well.

The following is a chart of the most common health and social services jobs and their national average salaries, as reported by Salary.com:

Profession 2015 Annual Salary Lower 10% Top 10%
Social Worker (BSW) $50,144 $38,995 $61,497
Social Worker (MSW) $58,575 $47,529 $70,523
Home Care Team Leader $65,025 $55,312 $78,273
Referral Specialist $35,321 $30,125 $42,456
Medical Social Worker (BSW) $51,128 $40,669 $62,719
Medical Social Worker (MSW) $58,878 $48,908 $68,038
Head of Home Care $109,532 $87,554 $140,364
Home Care Aide II $26,993 $21,623 $33,420
Housing Program Manager $38,207 $18,587 $61,205
Case Manager $71,645 $60,566 $84,463
Community Outreach Specialist $54,285 $36,806 $72,994

Source: http://www1.salary.com/Non-Profit-and-Social-Services-Salaries.html#A

As mentioned earlier, these pay rates are usually commiserate with experience. Those who make the in the top 10 percent of salary typically have several years of experience under their belt, a higher level of educational attainment, or both. They have also taken the time to hone the skills necessary to gain promotions and advancements in their chosen career path.

In addition to education, experience and skills, those in health and human services might see higher pay depending upon where they work. For example, marriage and family therapists often find the highest rates of pay in state government positions, which would include state-run social service organizations; other high-paying industries include home health care, local government, general medical and surgical hospitals and social advocacy organizations. Rehabilitation counselors have a much different salary outlook when it comes to where they work; the highest-paying industry is insurance carriers, followed by educational support services, general medical and surgical hospitals, elementary and secondary schools and nursing care facilities.

In addition to the industry, another factor to consider is the geographic region. Some states have much higher demand than others for a particular health and human services profession, as well as a much higher salary. According to the BLS, the top-paying states for healthcare social workers included the District of Columbia, California, Nevada, Connecticut and Rhode Island. For community health workers, the top states for best pay included the District of Columbia, Nevada, Washington, New Jersey and Wisconsin.

Though many factors enter into the salary expected for health and human services professions, a few key points might help guide those who seek a job with higher pay. Though health and human services are needed in all areas of the country, the demand tends to be higher among urban areas, where the population density is higher. Another point concerning demand for certain positions is the location of those who might need help the most; for example, the higher elderly population in warmer states, such as Florida and Nevada, might mean better opportunities for those in home health care.

Landing A Health & Human Services Job

This work attracts many people with a community-minded view and as a result, several positions in the health and human services world are booming. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, positions such as that of social worker, rehabilitation counselor, marriage and family therapist and health educator are among the many in health and human services that are expected to see better than average employment growth from 2012 to 2022.

Those interested in a human services career might be a bit overwhelmed by all the information out there. How can they find the proper job in the health and human services field? Where should they begin the search?

Since health and human services is made up of literally dozens of possible professions, it is very important for entry-level workers to have a basic idea of where they want to take their career. Is the healthcare field going to be the best place? What about social work, or counseling, or case management? Those who are drawn to one area over another can begin their job search long before they are ready to enter the field, by choosing the right educational path that will lead to the position they hope to achieve.

Once a student graduates, the serious job search begins. Some individuals are fortunate in that they have good connections and a firm idea of where they want to work long before they graduate and they have planned that path accordingly. But for others, having a degree or credentials in hand doesn’t necessarily mean a quick trip right into their dream job. For those who aren’t quite sure where they will land, it is important to take these steps to ensure the best possible outcome of their job search.

Join professional organizations: Professional organizations that cater to the health and human services industry can help job seekers, not only with job boards and other career opportunities, but by offering advocacy, promotion and enhancement of a resume. A few popular organizations include the National Organization for Human Services and the American Public Human Services Association.

Gather references and complete a resume: Those who have any references in the health and human services arena can get in touch with them in order to use their information on resumes. These might be former colleagues, professors, peers and even clients who have been helped in some way. Now is also the time to tailor a resume to showcase any significant achievements in social work, community health or any related field.

Thoroughly prepare for a job interview: Those seeking a job can prepare for an interview by doing serious research into the organization they intend to interview with. Learning about who runs the organization, what the structure is like, what has been expected of others in similar positions and what kind of benefits and salaries are offered is a great way to prepare. Walk into the interview with a short list of questions to ask in order to clarify job responsibilities.

Network as much as possible: Now is the time to expand the network of contacts in the health and human services industry. Everyone qualifies, from the professor who taught the undergraduate program to the client who was very happy with the results of a case. Every contact is a potential lead for future work, so keep all those names handy in a spreadsheet, Rolodex or some other categorizing system. Attend networking events, invite contacts to casual lunch meetings and otherwise continue to build the network.

Take advantage of career services: Those with a college degree should take advantage of the career services office at their former school. Career service offices often have internal job boards, leads for references and networking, help with interviews and resumes and much more. Look to career services for help with any aspect of the job search; if they do not have the answers, they can likely find someone who does.

Look into health and human services job boards: Begin the day-to-day job search by going to human services job boards and looking for positions that pique your interest. Some state and local job boards offer information on positions in a certain area and national job boards can often be searched by state or title. Sign up for a daily digest, if available, in order to keep up with the latest postings.

Plan out a career trajectory: Those who intend to start and build a business are advised to begin with a business plan and mission statement; why not do the same with a new career? Planning out the initial steps of the job search, finding the positions that will serve as preparation for bigger things to come and planning out the future on paper can help give a firm idea of where the career path will go. Make it comprehensive and upbeat and then revisit it every three to six months to tweak it based on new goals and priorities.

Sometimes working in health and human services can be tough – but the rewards are worth it, according to Jana Davis, who has spent many years as a social worker.

“If you have a true calling for this, your life will be enriched on a spiritual level. You will have times you will emotionally hurt. You will have times when you will feel helpless. You will be tired. And in the beginning especially, this will be while you are not being paid your worth,” Davis said. “There will be countless other times, however, that you will see clients wake from depression, complete their goals, repair their relationships, heal the inner wounds of trauma and more. The relationship between therapist and client is like no other. It is sacred ground. To bear witness to their pain and their progress is nothing short of that.”

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