When you start looking into a career in social work, you may expect that all positions will have you working directly with clients and their families. In fact, there are also opportunities to work for the organizations or associations that support the field itself. Through initiatives and centers, associations support social work education and provide opportunities for leadership and professional development within the health care field. We spoke with Heather Marshall, MSW, from the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) to answer some questions about how she went from studying social work to advocating for it.
ExploreHealthCareers.org (EHC): How did you decide on getting involved with social work, specifically in geriatric social work?
Heather Marshall (HM): My grandparents were such a big part of my childhood. For the longest time, I thought I had two moms — my Mom and my “other mom” who was my grandmother. My career path was largely driven by my desire to honor them and make sure elders in my community could age with dignity, love and respect. I volunteered and completed field work in a variety of aging services — nursing homes, adult day centers, etc. I was helping individuals living with Alzheimer’s navigate changes, sharing critical resources with family caregivers, and at times, serving as an advocate when legislation threatened to greatly affect my clients’ access to care. It was complex work, and I wanted a career that would equip me with the skills to navigate these complexities. Social work was the perfect choice because it taught me to look at all angles of a situation — from one-on-one care delivery to policies affecting the health and well-being of older adults.
EHC: Please briefly describe your current position and where you are located.
HM: I work for CSWE on the education and research team. I started as the co-director of a center that increased social work students’ competencies to work with older adults. As part of this effort, I implemented a gerontological field education model at select Veteran Administration sites. In my current role, I focus less on aging and more on the social work pipeline — that is, how CSWE can recruit students to social work and support them during their education. One of the highlights so far was launching a centralized application service (SocialWorkCAS) for students applying to master’s-level programs. This system simplifies the application process and the aggregate data we collect will help CSWE understand who is applying to social work programs and how to best support them.
EHC: What advice do you have for students interested in going into the social work field?
HM: There are many misconceptions about social work and what social workers do. Social work is a helping profession, and people are often drawn to it because they want to help others. However, it is so much more than that — it’s a professional degree, and you will acquire skills and training to achieve change on many levels. Be open to different possibilities and career paths; there are so many options in social work. Talk to current social workers, students — anyone who can help paint a picture of the opportunities that exist in this field. I didn’t have a clear roadmap in mind when I started my education and career journey — and that is okay! You will be amazed at what you can do, where the path will lead and what impact you will have as a social worker.
EHC: What do you wish you knew before you chose to study this field?
HM: Social workers have a pivotal role to play when it comes to understanding health and addressing inequities because we look at multiple factors that affect individuals and their communities. I did not appreciate how important this perspective and training is when I started exploring potential careers. Now I can’t imagine another route because social work, in my opinion, provides the most comprehensive training when it comes to understanding the dynamics between an individual and his/her environment.