NASW Pioneers Biography Index

The National Association of Social Workers Foundation is pleased to present the NASW Social Work Pioneers®. NASW Pioneers are social workers who have explored new territories and built outposts for human services on many frontiers. Some are well known, while others are less famous outside their immediate colleagues, and the region where they live and work. But each one has made an important contribution to the social work profession, and to social policies through service, teaching, writing, research, program development, administration, or legislation.

The NASW Pioneers have paved the way for thousands of other social workers to contribute to the betterment of the human condition; and they are are role models for future generations of social workers. The NASW Foundation has made every effort to provide accurate Pioneer biographies.  Please contact us at to provide missing information, or to correct inaccurate information. It is very important to us to correctly tell these important stories and preserve our history.  

Please note, an asterisk attached to a name reflects Pioneers who have passed away. All NASW Social Work Pioneers® Bios are Copyright © 2021 National Association of Social Workers Foundation. All Rights Reserved.

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William J. Spitzer

Pioneering Contributions
William J. Spitzer, PhD, DCSW,
has made broad-ranging leadership contributions throughout his distinguished career that have significantly advanced client services, professional practice and social work education.  As a prolific author, his administrative and educational achievements clearly reflect his passion, drive and life-long commitment to social work in public and private sector healthcare, child welfare, and gerontology.  

His professional roles have included directing social work services in three large-scale health systems as well as serving as Commonwealth of Virginia State Program Operations Manager, chair of multiple county committees, as major housing corporation executive director, and as creator/director of two award-winning programs in Oregon.

As an academic, Spitzer worked diligently to enhance social work education.  He lectured at universities in five states and was national editor for the Society for Social Work Leadership in Health Care (SSWLHC) for 13 years.  In addition, he was appointed to four Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) university reaccreditation site review teams and functioned as reviewer/editorial board member for multiple journals.  He chaired the creation of NASW continuing education certification programs in Virginia and Oregon and was seven-time president and/or board member for state NASW and SSWLHC chapters.

The extensive impact of his community services and social work advocacy was recognized with 17 national, state and organizational awards spanning his career.  Regarded as visionary, Spitzer is energetic, collegial, and clearly dedicated to promoting benchmark professional practice, and he has garnered career-long respect from colleagues, students and clients.


Career Highlights
Spitzer’s career trajectory began with his MSW internship as Acting Team Leader and District Staff Development Coordinator with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.  He subsequently accepted a position as director of foster care services and then dual appointment as group care services director at a Grand Rapids Michigan community agency.  Spitzer was active with the local NASW chapter, serving on its board of directors.  He designed his agency’s internship program and was on the field faculty of Michigan State University. 

After earning three degrees from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Spitzer taught in both the School of Social Work and the School of Commerce and Business Administration, with his PhD research serving as the basis for Illinois Department of Children and Family Services’ recommendations to the Illinois governor on state services to older adolescents.

At Sarah Bush Lincoln Health System, Spitzer concurrently held appointments as director of social work services, acting health system director of human resources and homemaker program administrator, while also serving as Chair of the Coles County Illinois Child Abuse/Neglect and Interagency Committees.  He subsequently was appointed director of social work services at Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU) hospitals with a dual faculty appointment at Portland State University School of Social Work.

While serving on the state board of directors, the Oregon NASW awarded Spitzer for conceiving and chairing the state’s first CE certification program.  While at OHSU, Spitzer conceived and chaired two programs that were honored as State Social Work Programs of the Year.  With the Portland Fire Bureau and OHSU, Spitzer developed and became first State Clinical Director of the Oregon Statewide Critical Response Team which evolved into one of the largest response teams in the U.S., debriefing over 1,600 first responders and health care personnel in three Western states. Spitzer also created and managed OHSU Hospitals’ Medicaid Application Program, which significantly heightened system-wide appreciation for the value of social work services by simultaneously expanding the accessibility of needed health care to low-income patients and contributing a major health system revenue stream.

Becoming director of social work services at the Medical College of Virginia Hospitals (MCVH) in 1992, Spitzer was appointed co-chair of the health system’s cardiac patient care reengineering implementation team. He created the MCVH critical incident response team and chaired or served on 20 committees.  A clinical associate professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, Spitzer was also the nine-year chair of the highly successful Virginia Statewide Conferences on Social Work Practice in Health Care. Elected twice as SWLHC Virginia Society President, Spitzer also served multiple terms on the Virginia NASW board of directors as an officer and program chair.

Appointed State Manager of Licensing Operations for the Virginia Department of Social Services, Spitzer influenced statewide care through his oversight of an $8.5M budget, 11 administrators and 125-plus staff in eight state offices. He enhanced the quality of resident care across the state by creating and leading the first Virginia CQI program designed to refine licensing standards governing 7,200 providers of adult and children’s services. 


Biographic Information
Entering the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) in 1966, Spitzer earned his BA in Sociology and BS in Psychology degrees in 1971 and MSW in 1973.  In 1981 was conferred his PhD in Social Work and Business Administration.  A licensed practitioner in Oregon and Texas, Spitzer has authored 58 publications and delivered over 100 national and international presentations.  His textbook Social Work Practice in Healthcare: Advanced Approaches and Emerging Trends (Sage Publishing) was adopted by 26 universities and colleges, while his popular ten-volume “Exemplars in Health Care Social Work Practice” publications was widely distributed by SSWLHC.

After “semi-retirement” Spitzer continued his private practice, served on the Social Work in Health Care review board and assisted two psychotherapy practices and a community agency committee before accepting a 2022 invitation to become executive director of the Catholic Diocese of Richmond Housing Corporation, monitoring Diocese nursing and assisted living facilities throughout Virginia. 

He has been an active member of NASW for 50 years, with credentials as DCSW and ACSW. 


Significant Recognition and Awards
Spitzer has been honored with 17 national, state and organizational awards for his career work. These include: 2020 National Association of Social Workers’ Lifetime Professional Achievement Award – Virginia; 2004 Certificate of Appreciation – (the first conferred by) National Board of Directors, SSWLHC; 1998 Hyman J. Weiner National Award for Excellence in Health Care Social Work Education and Practice – SSWAHC (American Hospital Association); 1998 Letter of Commendation – Governor of Virginia (for professional practice); 1996 Virginia Health Care Social Work Administrator of the Year Award; 1994 Most Outstanding Patient Care Department Award -Medical College of Virginia Hospitals; 1992 Oregon Social Work Program of the Year; 1992 Leadership Appreciation Award - Oregon NASW (for educational program development); 1992 Teaching Appreciation Award-Concordia College; 1990 Oregon Social Work Department Director of the Year; 1990 Oregon Social Work Program of the Year.  

Newly Inducted NASW Social Work Pioneer Hortense McClinton 2015

Nominate A New NASW Pioneer

Please note, Pioneer nominations made between today’s date through March 31, 2023, will not be reviewed until spring 2023.

Completed NASW Pioneer nominations can be submitted throughout the year and are reviewed at the June Pioneer Steering Committee Meeting. To be considered at the June meeting, submit your nomination package by March 31. To learn more, visit our Pioneer nomination guidelines.

New Pioneers 

Congratulations newly elected Pioneers!  Pioneers will be inducted at the 2023  Annual Program and Luncheon. Full biographies and event details coming soon.