Doctorate Degree in Social Work
The field of social work offers two types of doctorate social work degree paths – the Doctor of Social Work (or DSW), and the Doctor of Philosophy (or Ph.D.). While the Master’s level is considered the terminal degree for the social work profession, many MSW graduates consider going on to achieve a doctorate degree in social work for various reasons. These can be categorized as personal career advancement reasons, and reasons of contribution to and advancement of the field.
Personal Career Advancement
As with many professions, practitioners in the field of social work often seek to further their education in pursuit of career advancement. For social workers, electing to pursue a doctorate degree in social work in the field can contribute to deeper understandings of the theoretical foundations, practice orientations, and clinical applications of social work practice.
Earning a doctorate degree in social work can also provide or strengthen important skill sets such as research design, higher level analysis of social work issues, and teaching. A doctorate degree in social work can advance one’s career in the following ways, among others:
- Obtaining a research position – those with doctoral degrees receive advanced training in conducting social work research, analyzing data, and drawing conclusions that can be used in direct practice, to shape policy, or to better understand social trends and systemic issues.
- Obtaining higher level administrative positions – many places of employment offer higher level positions or higher rates of pay to those with doctoral degrees, as an indicator of expertise in the field.
- Working as a social work educator – in the field of higher education, a doctoral degree is highly respected, and often required for certain positions within academia. Those with an interesting in teaching or working in the administration of social work education should consider a doctoral degree.
- Achieving parity and competitiveness with other positions – while a Master’s degree is considered terminal in the field of social work, many similar professions, such as psychology and physical therapy, consider the doctoral degree the terminal one. In order to be competitive with doctoral-level candidates in these other fields, social workers might consider earning a doctoral degree.
Advancing the Profession: Doctorate Degree in Social Work
Social workers are all united by our shared values and interest in the profession of social work, leading many people to consider how they can personally contribute to its advancement. Attaining a doctoral degree is one way to do so, for reasons such as:
- Conducting social work research and publishing findings in peer-reviewed journals – this practice contributes to the legitimacy of the profession while adding to the body of social work knowledge and disseminating important findings that can inform evidence-based practice.
- Contributing to accreditation of social work schools – the Council of Social Work Educators takes into account the number of faculty who hold doctoral degrees at each school of social work as a part of their accreditation procedures.
- Shaping the future of social work through education – doctoral level social workers are likely to hold positions in academia and therefore have the opportunity to give back to the profession by teaching the next generation of social work graduates.
It is important to consider the various benefits of attaining a doctorate degree in social work. While the Ph.D. or DSW in social work does not lead to a higher level of licensure for practice, a doctoral level education in social work can contribute to one’s personal career trajectory and advancement of the profession, while allowing students to deepen their social work knowledge and skills.