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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Elizabeth J. Clark Photo
Elizabeth J. Clark* (1944-2020)

Pioneering Contributions

Elizabeth J. Clark, PhD, ACSW, MPH, former Chief Executive Officer/Executive Director, of the National Association of Social Workers, rebuilt the profession's largest membership organization, bringing it into the 21st century in terms of fiscal viability, international outreach, national advocacy, scholarly research, and training resources. She arranged the first virtual Social Work Congress and Student Congress, and instituted use of electronic and social media to disseminate information and to advance NASW's goals. An exemplary leader, she kept constituents engaged through advocacy for passage of The Dorothy I. Height and Whitney M. Young, Jr. Social Work Reinvestment Act.

Building on the strong efforts of her predecessors, Dr. Clark set a new standard of excellence in social work management giving NASW a sustainable fiscal structure and bringing social workers together to strategically plan for the profession. Clark guided the 145,000 member professional organization through a difficult economic downturn in U.S. history; she demonstrated a strong belief in the chapter structure and helped build a for-profit arm, Assurances Services, Inc. (ASI), to financially support the organization and its member benefits.

The results of her NASW administration include raising the credibility and profile of social workers through availability of collaborative programs in the U.S. and internationally, an emphasis on high-quality, social work research, extensive online training and educational resources, and a public education campaign to let related professionals know and engage with social workers as peers. An expert in the area of palliative care, oncology social work, and bereavement, she guided NASW in developing Standards of Practice for Social Workers in Hospice and Palliative Care Settings and in establishing a clinical credential in hospice social work. Working with partner organizations, she initiated NASW's examination of the Affordable Care Act and its impact on end-of-life care.

Career Highlights

Dr. Clark was CEO/Executive Director of NASW National from 2001-2013 and before that, head of the New York State Chapter. For the national headquarters, her major initiatives included the Social Work Congresses; the first national study of social workers; the National Social Work Public Education Campaign; the Social Work Reinvestment Investment Initiative, and the establishment of the Social Workers Across Nations (SWAN) program. She was a delegation leader for social workers on ambassador trips to China, Cambodia, South Africa, Egypt, Russia, Brazil, India, and Costa Rica.

Prior to working for NASW, Dr. Clark was the Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer (COO) for the March of the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship. She had operational responsibility for the planning phase of a national grassroots organizing campaign which was endorsed by 1500 cancer and related groups, and which culminated in a national rally in Washington, D.C. For six years, she held overlapping positions at the Albany Medical Center and Albany Medical College. As Director, Division of Diagnostic and Therapeutic Services, she was one of nine division directors in patient care services.

As Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Medical Oncology, her focus was on psychosocial oncology issues including cancer survivorship, cancer education, loss and grief, caregiver burnout. In her role as Director for the Department of Social Work, Dr. Clark had administrative and budgetary responsibility for a 26-person multidisciplinary department to provide psychosocial intervention throughout the 600+ bed university medical center.

Dr. Clark wrote extensively on cancer survivorship and was the Chief Operating Officer for the national March to Conquer Cancer with the goal of raising awareness, to provide more support for cancer research. She served as the President of the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship, Chair of the National Hospice Foundation, Vice Chair of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and Secretary of C-Change, Collaborating to Conquer Cancer.

Biographical Data

Dr. Clark held a Bachelor's Degree and Master's Degree in Social Work and a Master's of Public Health from the University of Pittsburgh, as well as a Master's Degree and Doctorate in Medical Sociology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She was the recipient of an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa. She held ACSW certification from NASW's Academy of Certified Social Workers. She began her academic career at Montclair State University as Associate Professor, Health Professions. She taught at both graduate and undergraduate levels with an emphasis on program development and evaluation, community health, policy, and ethics.

Significant Achievements and Awards

Among other recognitions, Clark received these honors: Cecil & Ida Green Honors Professorship, Texas Christian University, 2014; Brundy Social Work Award, Mental Health America, 2013; Special Recognition, Howard University School of Social Work, 2013; Entry in United States Congressional Record, United States Congressman Edolphus Towns, 2013; Distinguished Practitioner In Social Work, National Academies of Practice, 2009; Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters Degree, Wartburg College, May 2006; Ray of Hope Award, National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship, 2006; Distinguished Alumnae Award, University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work, 2006; Delegate, White House Conference on Aging, 2005; Gold Star Award, Cancer Practice Education Network, NCI, 2000; Distinguished Public Service Award, Rockefeller College, State University at Albany, 1999; Leadership in Oncology Social Work Award, Association of Oncology Social Work, 1998; Lifetime Service Award, Sociological Practice Association, 1998; DeWitt Clinton Masonic Award for Community Service, Wadsworth Lodge and the Greater Lodge of the State of New York, 1997; Health Care Social Work Administrator of the Year Award, Society for Social Work Leadership in Health Care, Empire State Chapter, 1995; Social Worker of the Year, Northeast New York Division of NASW, 1994.

Significant Publications

Clark was author, co-author or editor of more than 70 publications. She wrote extensively on cancer survivorship. Recent books specific to social work included:

  • Clark, Elizabeth J. and Hoffler, Elizabeth, "Hope Matters: The Power of Social Work," NASW Press, 2014.
  • Hoffler, Elizabeth and Clark, Elizabeth J., "Social Work Matters: The Power of Linking Policy and Practice," NASW Press, 2012.

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.