Boston University Advancing Leadership in Public Health Social Work (BU-ALPS)

This one-year HRSA-funded project aims to strengthen public health social work (PHSW) education at Boston University and nationally. PHSW is a sub-discipline within social work that draws on both social work and public health theories, frameworks, research and practice to promote health equity and mitigate human health problems. With a strong focus on health impact and population health, public health social work can play a central role in efforts to address the unmet needs of racially diverse, economically disadvantaged and medically underserved communities.

The Boston University Advancing Leadership in Public Health Social Work (BU-ALPS) project will strengthen the public health social work field both at Boston University, at other higher education institutions within the U.S. and beyond through four goals:

    1. Strengthen the public health social work leaders of the future. The project will provide the opportunity to 6 current MSW/MPH students to attend the American Public Health Association (APHA) Annual Conference in 2017 and 2018. It will allow the program to provide stipends to 6 students currently enrolled in the MSW/MPH program and provide additional mentoring opportunities to enhance their skills and experience. Working with the CISWH, the project will expand on a Social Work and Health Equity Speaker Series launched in 2016 to develop an enrichment series of webinars. Open to all social work students, faculty, alumni, and practitioners, this series will focus on key areas of PHSW practice such as community engagement, cross-sector partnerships, policy brief writing, and culturally responsive trauma-informed approaches to working with communities.


    1. Promote PHSW faculty development. The project will convene a learning community to create a PHSW toolkit that can be used by educators not only in MSW/MPH programs but in all academic programs interested in enhancing the skillset of social work students to encompass a public health approach to address social determinants of health. The toolkit will include model syllabi, exercises, case studies with explications, and other teaching materials to enable educators to convey a public health social work perspective to their students.


    1. Share promising practices to enhance MSW/MPH programs. Project staff will draw on the experience and insights of thought leaders and faculty with an interest in PHSW to create a best practices guide that institutions of higher learning can use to enhance a MSW/MPH or related program. Staff will also develop a listserv to enable communication between MSW/MPH program directors and those seeking technical assistance to enhance new or existing programs.


  1. Create a strategic vision for the future of PHSW. Through an action plan working group comprised of leaders in the field of PHSW, project staff will guide a strategic thinking process about ways for the social work workforce to integrate and promote a PHSW approach. The team will produce a PHSW work action plan with recommendations and concrete suggestions for next steps for all members of the field.


Betty J. Ruth
Principal Investigator

Madi Wachman

Alexis Marbach

Nandini S. Choudhury
Research Assistant

This project is supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under grant number G05HP31425, Leadership in Public Health Social Work Education Grant Program, in the amount of $300,000 awarded to Trustees of Boston University. No percentage of this project was financed with nongovernmental sources. This information or content and conclusions are those of the author and should not be construed as the official position or policy of, nor should any endorsements be inferred by HRSA, HHS or the U.S. Government.

Project Impact

The students who benefit from this project will become mentors to future MSW/MPH students and leaders in the field. The enrichment series will continue with at least 4 events per year, and the PHSW toolkit and best practices for MSW/MPH program guides will continue to be available and will be updated yearly, providing continued access to resources for institutions nationwide. The listserv will be available and monitored, providing a continuing mechanism for communication among the field. Most importantly, the field will have a roadmap for future steps in the continually evolving PHSW action plan.