Public health is the art and science of protecting and improving the health of communities through education, promotion of healthy lifestyles, and research on disease and injury prevention. Public health helps improve the health and well-being of people in communities and across the nation (whatispublichealth.org). At the heart of public health is a commitment to social justice, “based on the compelling desire to make the world a better place, free of misery, inequity and preventable suffering…” (Krieger & Birn, 1998).
Social work is a profession dedicated to the restoration and enhancement of human social functioning and the promotion of change in social conditions to reduce human suffering (International Federation of Social Workers [IFSW], 2000; National Association of Social Workers [NASW], 1996). Social work is based upon core values of respect for equality, worth, and dignity of human beings, and uses a human rights and social justice orientation to address the complex needs of people in their environments (Marsh, 2003).
Public health social work is a contemporary, integrated, trans-disciplinary approach to preventing, addressing, and solving social health problems. Over a hundred years old, it draws on both social work and public health theories, frameworks, research, and practice.
- It’s about prevention, not just intervention after problems have occurred;
- It uses multiple methods, including research, policy, advocacy, clinical and macro approaches;
- It works across population levels, from individuals to groups, communities and whole populations;
- It’s strengths-based and emphasizes resilience and positive factors to promote health and reduce risk.