There are many benefits to joining a professional organization. From networking opportunities to continuing education, membership can help guide your career. Professional organizations play an important role in the social work profession. Groups like the National Association of Social Workers, Council on Social Work Education, National Rural Social Work Caucus, Society for Social Work Leadership in Health Care and Clinical Social Work Association all offer many resources and support for social workers who practice in different settings.
The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) has 132,000 members and is the largest professional organization for social workers. The NASW offers members access to relevant publications both online and in print, continuing education, a credentialing center, and a social work career center with a job board and other professional development opportunities. NASW reports legislative alerts and communicates other relevant developments in laws concerning social workers.
The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), on the other hand, focuses more on representing students and individuals who are involved with educational and professional institutions and social welfare agencies. The CSWE is the only accrediting agency for social work education in the United States. An aim of its mission is to enhance the quality of education for social workers who promote individual, family and community well-being, as well as social and economic justice. Like the NASW, the council offers publications and information on issues and trends related to social work education. The CSWE has two institutes, two centers and other initiatives that focus on specific concerns of social work education (e.g. the CSWE Learning Academy, the CSWE Leadership Institute and the CSWE Center for Diversity and Social and Economic Justice).
The North American Association of Christians in Social Work (NACSW) equips members to integrate faith into the practice of social work. It is an interdenominational nonprofit organization with a history dating to the 1950s. The association has a career center for both job seekers and employers, and it hosts an annual convention for training, networking and continuing education. Members have access to the journal, Social Work & Christianity, and a monthly podcast.
The National Rural Social Work Caucus (NRSW) is an informal professional organization that aims to create and supplement the basic knowledge base for social workers who are employed in rural contexts. The NRSW hosts an annual institute that seeks to convey the diversity of rural America and to offer social workers in rural areas access to professional development.
Membership in the Society for Social Work Leadership in Health Care (SSWLHC) supports the development and continuing education of social workers who work in the specific context of health care settings. Resources and opportunities offered by the society include: a national meeting and annual conference for networking, quarterly webinars for continuing education and a free online peer-reviewed professional journal.
The Clinical Social Work Association (CSWA) focuses its resources and opportunities on social workers who are employed in clinics and other medical contexts. The CSWA has more than 15 state-based affiliate organizations for clinical social workers who want a local context for their work. The CSWA’s website offers information about legislation that affects clinical social workers, HIPAA, the Physician Quality Reporting System (PQRS) and Medicare, as well as a job board for both prospective employees and employers.
The field of social work is constantly evolving, requiring social workers to stay up to date in their skills and knowledge. Professional organizations are beneficial because they offer opportunities for networking and development that help social workers progress in their careers and in their practice.
Getting Started with a Career in Social Work
A Bachelor of Social Work is the most common degree for entry-level positions in this field. This degree offers the most necessary skills and knowledge for beginning a career in social work. Some social work positions require a Master of Social Work degree. However, a bachelor’s degree in the field is not required to enter a master’s degree program in social work.