A Master of Social Work (MSW) is often considered the terminal practice degree for social workers, as it is a required stepping stone for licensure.
A Doctor of Social Work (DSW), on the other hand, can open even more doors to advanced careers. In fact, professionals with a DSW can often land positions that may not be available to those who have not pursued this path.
Shelly Richardson is a social work program director and assistant professor at the College of St. Scholastica. She’s also a Capella University graduate, having earned her DSW in 2013. In this interview, Richardson shares why she chose to pursue a doctorate in her field.
Q. Why did you choose to pursue a career in social work, and why did you choose Capella University?
A. As a sophomore in my undergraduate studies, I knew I wanted to work with people, but was unsure in what capacity. A close friend shared with me her passion for social work and described it as a helping profession that promoted social and economic justice. After taking an introductory course on social work that examined the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Code of Ethics, I knew I had found my future career. The values aligned perfectly with my personal beliefs, and the more I studied the profession, the more I knew social work was what I wanted to pursue.
The further I advanced in the profession and my family life, the more my lifestyle demanded flexibility for growth opportunities. This is why I chose to study at Capella for my DSW degree. The online component was key to balancing my family and work schedules.
Q. Why did you choose to take it a step further than a master’s in social work and pursue your doctorate? How has your DSW degree helped you in your career path and the position you are in now?
A. My clinical practice transitioned into management positions and adjunct instruction for a private college. I found myself wanting to expand my knowledge and skill set in a formal way. I had explored other educational opportunities and found Capella’s DSW degree program, with its focus on practice experience as well as research, to be a fit for what I wanted to add to my leadership repertoire.
The completion of my doctoral program increased my earning potential in the field and opened a whole new world of opportunities. Since graduating, I have become an assistant professor and, a few months ago, added responsibilities as an undergraduate social work program director. Having a DSW was the preferred criterion to be considered for these positions.
Q. What was most challenging about the doctoral program?
A. The most challenging aspect was making sure I made time to get the required reading and work done. My family was supportive of the process and participated in the scheduling and time commitment, which was the key to success and completion of the degree.
Q. What was the most surprising thing that happened during your doctoral studies?
A. When I started sharing about my participation in a doctoral program with my employers and colleagues, I was suddenly consulted more and more often for research opportunities, clinical practice supervision, grant writing, professional presentations, as well as policy analysis projects. Who knew my DSW skills were going to be in such demand?
Q. What specific aspects of social work does a DSW focus on? What did you focus on?
A. The core courses of the DSW helped frame a deeper understanding of practice and global circumstances. Of particular interest to me were the courses on technology, leadership, and the exploration of immigration issues. I used my electives for the DSW to focus on health care policy and reform with my dissertation examining the quality of health care in transitioning children to adult systems.
My research entailed comparing the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Value-Based Purchasing requirements to the practices and outcomes used to transition youth in mental health care services. The focus groups consisted of parents of adults with mental health diagnoses that were given during childhood, school professionals, county case managers, mental health professionals, registered nurses, and other identified professionals in the community.
Q. What positions are available for DSWs that may not have been available to those without?
A. As a former job seeker in the field, the DSW qualified me to practice internationally, carry out agency administration, and educate future practitioners in the field. These opportunities were limited or out of my reach prior to obtaining my DSW.
Q. How does a DSW prepare you for a research or teaching position?
A. Every course of the DSW focuses on developing research, analytical, and evaluation skills in areas of interest to the individual. The result is a deeper understanding of issues, which enhances the ability to teach and present information to learners. The research writing and dissertation process prepares students for rigorous peer review of ideas, thoughts, and work.
Q. What advice would you give to others interested in the Capella DSW program?
A. Take advantage of developing relationships with other students in your courses to build your networking capacity and support upon degree completion. I had the opportunity to connect with others in my area of interest from around the world and benefited greatly from their practice wisdom and connections in their home communities.
A doctoral degree is a great option for individuals considering a career in social work education or high-level administrative positions. Capella’s Doctor of Social Work degree program is designed around national social-work education guidelines and one of very few online DSW programs.