MPH vs. MSW

Two Degree Options Both Helping Community Health

Below you will find an explanation of what a Master’s of Public Health (MPH) degree is and its career application. This is followed by a quick set of bullet points giving examples on career paths one can take once they have their MPH. This is followed by the same formula for the Master’s of Social Work (MSW) explanation and then a bullet point distillation of career paths you might choose.

What Is a Master of Public Health degree?

A Master of Public Health (MPH) degree holder is one who has earned their degree in a non-thesis graduate degree program that emphasizes public health at the community level and beyond. As a skills based degree, the MPH has wide application throughout numerous professions and disciplines. The focus is always helping people at the individual and community level, to be able to make informed healthy choices that lower risky behaviors, improve health outcomes and lead to a greater well-being.

The Master’s of Public Health focuses on how to make changes that will impact their communities with an understanding that helping treat and inform individuals leads to community and societal change. Rather than focusing solely on the health of the body an MPH takes into consideration mental health, addiction, social, economic and environmental considerations. A Master’s of Public Health (MPH) degree holder will usually specialize in a specific field, but will always have a broad base of knowledge around all aspects of public health. When one has completed their Master’s of Public (MPH) degree they will understand about a great number of issues that impact individuals and communities, as well as the necessary skills and knowledge base to meet those challenges by implementing everything from public health, policies, cutting edge research, community partnerships and educational outreach to improve the health of their communities.

Here are some of the areas of study and career paths for a Master’s of Public Health (MPH):

  • A Master’s of Public Health studies macro issues relating to public health. Everything from epidemics, to sanitation and mental health issues.
  • MPH’s usually have a broad base of knowledge around how communities are impacted by: Social Isolation, Trauma and Violence, Disparities in healthcare outcomes & access, and the impacts on the community caused by lack of food security and access to healthy and affordable nutrition.
  • An MPH might specialize in addiction and substance abuse
  • An MPH may have a degree concentration that focuses on Epidemiology to help prevent epidemics or contain them before they become pandemics.
  • An MPH might want to work in Healthcare Administration and help large hospitals and HMO’s with policy decisions.
  • Some people who receive their MPH go on to become a Registered Nurse and either direct a Nursing team or work as an RN in a hospital setting.
  • Some students focus on Social and Community health studying how to supervise community outreach programs for public health issues such as homelessness, mental health and substance abuse.
  • With your MPH if you have an interest in nutrition and diet, you can become a dietician or nutritionist helping your community with choosing healthier foods to improve health and well-being.

What Is a Master of Social Work degree?

The Master’s of Social Work degree is a degree that gives a broad knowledge base and skill-set to help one to be able to perform social work in a wide variety of contexts to help your community. The Master of Social work gives a broad base of understanding into social work theory around such ideas as Trauma Informed Care, Dual-Diagnosis therapeutic approaches, understanding how to work with people of diverse backgrounds through Cultural Competency and an understanding of the principles of equity and inclusion. Master of Social Work programs give one an understanding of Social Work research to help educate people at both the community level and governments in order to change policies to help communities foster positive change. An MSW also gives one an understanding of therapeutic approaches at the clinical level whether from counseling or cognitive behavioral approaches to mental health. One may specialize in family and children and go on to assist with post adoption resources or marriage and family therapy. Others may choose to focus on the clinical research application and create broad clinical studies or surveys to help learn about beliefs held in society and how to change them for more positive outcomes. MSW holders generally focus more on the individual and less on the macro level compared to Master’s of Public Health, however certain MSW degree concentrations do focus on public policies and macro level research studies, usually around behavior and mental health. Master’s of Social Work usually do not delve into or study the way physical health is impacted by things such as diet or disease. However, a Master’s of Social Work degree holder may pursue a specialization as an addictions counselor working in a substance abuse clinic alongside those who hold a Master’s of Public Health degree.

Here are some of the areas of study and career paths for a Master’s of Social Work (MSW):

    1. A Master’s of Social Work tends to focus their studies on the impacts of counseling and mentorship for the individual. While some specializations of social work such as a Licensed Advanced Macro Social Worker, might study macro issues relating to how aspects of social work impact the community at large.
    2. Some MSW students will choose to have a degree concentration that focuses on individual therapy which may include cognitive behavioral therapy, or specializing in assisting patients who have experienced severe trauma by providing therapies that focus on trauma informed care.
    3. Master’s of Social Work tend to take into account the way cultural and social backgrounds can impact individuals and put an emphasis on Cultural Competency for their studies.
    4. An MSW might decide they want to work directly with groups of clients or individuals as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) who is directly providing therapy to their clients in a clinical setting.
    5. Some MSW holders may wish to improve their field by doing studies of behavior and therapies in a clinical setting as a researcher who performs testing and data collection.
    6. Some MSW holders will wish to work with developmentally disabled communities and may specialize their training in dual-diagnosis therapies to address both cognitive impairment paired with mental health or even drug addiction.
    7. Some people who have achieved their Master’s of Social Work degree will choose to work on the community level as a Licensed Advanced Macro Social Worker (LAMSW) focusing on how to implement policies that are informed by best practice social work policies and cutting edge social work research.

While the Master’s of Social Work tends to focus on the individual and their behaviors, and the Master’s of Public Health tends to focus on a community’s physical health as a whole, both impact society in a profound way that leads to a stronger social fabric for all community stakeholders. There is some overlap between the two degrees, but there are also very important differences that can massively influence the way you leave your mark on your career and society as a whole. It’s up to you to decide which area of focus best suits your skill-set, career goals and your personal strengths.