A Call for Social Work Research from the National Institutes of Health

Article excerpt

Previous editorials in this journal have noted the importance of expanding the capacity and improving the quality of social work research. Topics discussed in these editorials have addressed the nature and rigor of social work research, interdisciplinary collaboration, and research infrastructure in schools of social work (Fortune, 1999; Jenson, 2005; Proctor, 2002, 2003). Although improvements have occurred in each of these areas, considerable work remains in the quest to increase the impact and status of social work research. A new development in meeting this goal emerged recently with the release of a program announcement from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) aimed at advancing social work research (see http://grants1.nih.gov/grants/guide/pa-files/PA-06-081.html).

NIH SEEKS PROPOSALS FOR EMPIRICAL RESEARCH ON SOCIAL WORK PRACTICE

In December 2005, the NIH Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR) released a program announcement (PA) with three award mechanisms targeting social work research. Research on Social Work Practice and Concepts in Health is a call for proposals to investigate the effects of theoretically and empirically based social work practice on health outcomes for people experiencing medical and behavioral problems (PA-06-081). The PA is the product of efforts led by the Social Work Research Working Group, a team composed of representatives from NIH Institutes and Centers charged by Congress to develop a social work research agenda across NIH. In NIH Plan for Social Work Research (NIH, 2003), the group identified nine recommendations to enhance social work research. One proposed a new initiative by NIH to solicit empirical studies examining the effects of social work services and interventions on medical and behavioral outcomes for people receiving assistance in health care and nonspecialty health care settings (in schools, social services agencies, or correctional facilities, for example).The Research on Social Work Practice and Concepts in Health announcement is an outcome of this recommendation.

This new NIH announcement is important for several reasons. The PA publicly acknowledges the contribution of social work practice to the enhancement and efficacy of medical interventions targeting health problems. Significantly, the language in the PA goes beyond the proposition that social work strategies are mere enhancements to existing services and interventions. The existence of a social work knowledge base that offers unique and significant clinical expertise to interdisciplinary intervention efforts with client groups across multiple systems of care is clearly recognized. Specifically, the PA calls for investigations that apply empirically derived knowledge of efficacious interdisciplinary and coordinated intervention strategies aimed at improving health outcomes. Finally, the initiative seeks to advance sound scientific studies that will develop and test innovative social work approaches to ameliorating adverse health conditions.

The need for at least four types of social work investigations are highlighted in the announcement: (1) studies that assess the effectiveness of existing social work services and interventions on health outcomes; (2) investigations to develop and test the effects of innovative social work interventions on client functioning; (3) proposals that aim to improve health outcomes through interventions delivered in nontraditional health care settings; and (4) studies that examine effective program implementation strategies in communities. The initiative emphasizes collaborative and interdisciplinary projects based on a public health framework. The standard R01, R03, and R21 NIH award mechanisms are identified in the PA.

OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES

The NIH Research on Social Work Practice and Concepts in Health PA gives long-overdue recognition to the unique and shared strengths of social work intervention. …