Social work and public health programs collaborate for $15K grant from West Virginia Rural Health Initiative

Marshall University’s Departments of Social Work and Public Health have received a $15,000 grant from the West Virginia Rural Health Initiative to conduct health assessments in rural communities.

The West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission (WVHEPC) and its Division of Health Sciences oversee the Rural Health Initiative, a statewide program directed at improving the recruitment and retention of health-care providers to rural areas of the state, according to the grant’s project coordinator, Jo Dee Gottlieb.

"Both the fields of social work and public health are concerned with the health and behavioral health-care needs of our communities," Gottlieb said. "We saw this as a great opportunity for interdisciplinary collaboration and an opportunity for students to become familiar with the needs of our rural regions."

Gottlieb, program director for Marshall’s Department of Social Work, said they plan to partner each social work student with a public health student and have each team explore and identify community health, social welfare issues and service needs while on their field experiences.

Results from the health needs assessments would also help prevent duplication of services while identifying the real gaps where programs need to focus to bring positive change to the well-being of the West Virginia population, according to Dr. Monika Sawhney, director of the undergraduate public health program. Sawhney serves as a co-coordinator for the project.

"With this grant, we have four goals: initiate cross-disciplinary collaborations, sensitize students to the real needs of rural population, provide hands-on experience to use academic knowledge in real life situations and work with different stakeholders develop sustainable opportunities in the communities," Sawhney said. "We want our graduates to stay in West Virginia and by engaging students in rural communities, we hope they will be more invested in staying in these communities."

Students receiving stipends from the grant will be responsible for conducting surveys, focus groups or personal interviews with rural community members in West Virginia. The WVHEPC coordinates health sciences programs and policies, particularly those affecting the state’s three academic health centers at Marshall University, the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine and West Virginia University. For more information on the Rural Health Initiative, visit

Marshall’s Departments of Social Work and Public Health are housed in the university’s College of Health Professions. To learn more about these programs and future collaborations, visit