Knee/Wittman Lifetime Achievement 

The Knee/Wittman Health and Mental Health Awards are recognition awards presented for outstanding achievements and significant contributions in the fields of health and mental health. The Knee/Wittman Award Program was established to recognize those who represent the values, ethics and approaches exemplified by two dedicated social work pioneers, Ruth Knee and Milton Wittman, who guided the development of social policy and standards.

The Lifetime Achievement Award is presented to a professional social worker who has made exemplary contributions in health and mental health practice. Professional social work practice includes direct or clinical social work; social work education; social work research and administration related to health or mental health problems, issues or programs.  

About The Award And Its Namesakes

Legendary social workers Ruth Irelan Knee (1920-2008) and Milton Wittman (1915-1994) guided the development of social policy and standards. Their lifelong commitments to social values and the effective provision of services to those who are disadvantaged are reflected in their careers with the Public Health Service and in their leadership roles with professional social work, public health and mental health organizations.

Ruth Knee and Milton Wittman are members of the NASW Social Work Pioneers®.  To learn more about Ruth Knee, follow this link to visit her Pioneer biography.  To learn more about Milton Wittman, follow this link visit his Pioneer biography.

Lifetime Achievement Award Guidelines

The Knee/Wittman Lifetime Achievement Award recognizes a professional social worker who, over the course of his/her career, has made an exemplary contribution to health/mental health practice. Professional social work practice includes direct or clinical social work, social work education, research, consultation, planning and administration in medical, psychiatric, community mental health, or public health settings. Health/mental health practice includes direct influence on health/mental health problems, issues, populations, or settings. Lifetime career means a person who has spent at least twenty-five (25)  years in the field whether currently active or retired.

Nomination Requirements

Summarize the nominee's accomplishments by using the criteria listed below.  Nominees should have 25 years of experience in the social work profession. The following must be submitted online.

  • Completed nomination form.
  • Describe specifics of nominee's lifetime achievement as it relates to the field of health/mental health.
  • What are the personal and professional attributes that uniquely characterize the social work career to the nominee?
  • How has the nominee's work improved the delivery of health/mental health services and their impact on individuals, families, groups, and/or communities?
  • How has this been evidenced in leadership, policy development, consultation, research, teaching, administration, clinical practice, or public health/community mental health programs?
  • Three additional endorsements with support letters.
  • Curriculum Vitae (preferred) or list nominee's awards, honors, or other special recognition.
  • Additional information or comments.

Nominations are considered for two consecutive years. NASW national staff, current members of the NASW Board of Directors, and members of the Award Committee are ineligible.  For questions, please email the NASW Foundation at:

Lifetime Achievement Award Recipients

NASW Social Work Pioneer Ruth Irelan Knee In Conversation - From NASW Archives

Historic photograph of NASW Social Work Pioneer Ruth Irelan Knee in conversation. The Knee/Wittman Health and Mental Health Achievement Awards were established in honor of Ruth Knee and Milton Wittman.

Former NASW President Gary Bailey Presents Dr. James MacKay With Knee/Wittman Lifetime Achievement Award June 2018

Former NASW Board President and Foundation Board Member Gary Bailey, MSW, ACSW, presents New Hampshire State Representative James McKay, PhD, MSW, with a Knee/Wittman Lifetime Achievement Award June on 22, 2018.