Government Careers with a Health and Human Services Degree

People considering a career in health and human services are making a smart choice. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, future growth in health and human services is expected to be well above average in the next decade. This article will discuss some of the jobs available with a degree in health and human services with a focus on government jobs.

What is Health and Human Services?

The human services career field is considered to be the collection of services offered by public and private agencies that aim to improve the individual clients’ living conditions. The term “human services” is often used interchangeably with “social work”; however, they are not the same. Social workers are generally professionals that are licensed by their individual states and have extensive professional education and practice requirement. Human services workers, on the other hand, include the spectrum of occupations that work directly with people in need. Job titles for human service professionals include occupations such as family support worker, case advocate and crisis intervention counselor. Visit the National Organization for Human Services website at  for more information on the health and human services career field.

How Large is the Health and Human Services Career Field?

There are now over 1.5 million workers in the health and human services career field and the government projects that it will grow to over four million workers over the next decade. The reasons for these rapid growth projections are no mystery; the demographic changes in the American population, such as the growth in the number of elderly people and lower-income families will continue to increase the demand for human services. See the Fall 2011 Occupational Outlook from the Bureau of Labor Statistics at  for more information on future growth in the human services field.

Who Employs Health and Human Services Workers?

The majority of health and human services worker are employed by social service agencies at the local and state government level, with some opportunities at non-profit organizations and federal agencies that provide direct care to certain population (such as the Veterans Administration). Agencies that employ health and human services workers include hospitals, nursing homes, government-sponsored housing or clinics, and criminal justice offices. For example, a drug abuse counselor may work for a public or private rehabilitation clinic and a child abuse worker may be employed by a county child protection agency.

What Skills Do Health and Human Services Workers Need?

To be successful in this career field, workers need to develop certain core skills. The most important of these skills is good interpersonal and communication skills because interaction with a large, diverse population is essential. Workers also need to be able to develop deep relationships with their clients by using listening skills and applying empathy and compassion. In addition, because most clients will require services from multiple specialties, being able to work as a part of a multidisciplinary team is essential. Finally, health and human services workers need to have good analytical and creative skills to help their client devise successful strategies to overcome their personal obstacles.

What Degrees are Available in Health and Human Services?

Although it is a relatively new field, degrees in health and human services are available and can be conferred at each traditional academic level from associates’ to doctoral. The curriculum for each degree will vary among institutions, but most programs will include courses in liberal arts, sciences and humanities. Many colleges offer specialized human services degrees that tailor the curriculum to specific occupational interests. For example, students that want to work directly with elderly or disabled clients may want a program that emphasizes psychology courses while students interested in working with criminal offenders may pursue a criminal justice intensive curriculum. Another important component of the curriculum in most health and human services degree program is a requirement that the student engage in a set amount of hours of “field study” actually working in a human services environment. It’s easy to understand why field study is required since communication and interaction skills are such an important part of job requirements.

Associates Degrees in Human Services

The entry-level degree for his field is the associate’s degree in human services. Workers with associates’ degree can be employed by social service agencies in settings such as hospitals, shelters or group homes. At this level, workers are supervised by professionals such as nurses or licensed social workers.

Bachelor’s Degrees in Human Services

Programs at the bachelor’s level tend to focus on more specialized curricula. Students that are interested in specific human services occupations often have the opportunity to specialize in areas such as child welfare, adoption services, substance abuse, corrections or elder care.

Master’s and Doctoral Degrees in Human Services

Master’s level programs emphasize specific professional areas such as family services, management of nonprofit groups or leadership. Students pursuing doctoral degrees usually aspire to either executive leadership roles or teaching positions at universities and colleges.

Will a Degree in Health and Human Services Help You Get a Government Job?

In a word – yes! As you can see from the discussion above, the combination of a very positive job growth outlook and the large proportion of health and human service jobs that are with government agencies means that the government will be hiring many graduates of health and human services degree programs.

What Type of Government Agencies Hire Health and Human Services Workers?

Government agencies hire workers depending upon their function and specialty. Here are some examples of agencies that may be hiring (note that agency names will change depending upon the state/city where you are looking):

  •  Probation Officer/Juvenile Court Worker: State or county court system
  •  Child Abuse Worker: County child protective services agency
  •  Gerontology Aide: State/Veterans Administration nursing home
  •  Drug Abuse Counselor: City or county rehabilitation clinic

The prospects for a career in health and human services are very positive, with significant job growth forecast through the next decade. Because many positions within this career field are with state and local government agencies, the prospects of getting a government job with a degree in this field are excellent.