Medical Social Worker Training and Certification

Learn the job duties of medical social workers. Find out about education and training programs and certification options that can help you prepare for this career. Schools offering Clinical Social Work degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does a Medical Social Worker Do?

Medical social workers support people who have serious, chronic or terminal health issues, as well as their families. As a medical social worker, you may find work in hospitals, government agencies, nursing homes, hospices or family services agencies. You adopt several roles that involve careful planning and sensitivity to the needs of clients and their families. Advocating for patient rights, facilitating support groups and creating discharge plans are some of the duties you may assume. Some medical social workers, sometimes called gerontological social workers, specialize in working with the aging; these professionals support clients and their families with a variety of services, including counseling and long-term care plans.

Work EnvironmentHospitals, family services agencies, nursing homes, government agencies, hospices
Key SkillsCreating discharge plans, counseling, advocating for patient rights, facilitating support groups, creating long-term care plans
Education Requirements MSW usually needed to work as a medical social worker
Common CoursesCounseling skills, health care systems, managed care from a social work perspective, health care policy, long-term care
Practice Regulations All social workers must be licensed, certified or registered; requirements include approved degree and supervised clinical experience
Professional CertificationCertified Social Worker in Health Care (C-SWHC) offered by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW)

What Education and Training Do I Need?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that while a bachelor's degree in social work or a related field is the minimum requirement for some social work positions, a Master of Social Work (MSW) is typically needed for employment in medical, or health care, social work (www.bls.gov). Master's degree programs allow you to concentrate in a social work area of specialization. Some courses you may take while pursuing a concentration in medical social work, for example, examine health care systems, health care policy, long-term care and managed care from a social work perspective. You also acquire counseling and social work practice skills.

If you're enrolled full-time, you can complete an MSW in two years, and you don't need to have earned your bachelor's degree specifically in social work to apply. Recommended preparation for the master's program, however, includes courses in social work, as well as sociology, psychology and economics. Learning another language also benefits you in this field. Accredited MSW programs include a minimum of 900 hours of supervised clinical experience, which allows you to gain hands-on experience collaborating with other professionals in a health care setting or agency. The specific amount of internship hours is generally linked to licensure requirements, which vary by state.

How Do I Become Certified?

According to the BLS, all states require social workers to be licensed, registered or certified. While specific requirements differ, generally social workers are expected to graduate from accredited programs and meet the minimum amount of supervised clinical experience hours. If you plan on doing clinical social work, in which you focus on working directly with clients, you typically need to acquire two years (or 3,000 hours) of supervised clinical experience after earning your MSW.

To enhance your job opportunities and receive professional recognition within your area of specialization, you may wish to pursue voluntary professional certification in medical social work, as well. The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) is a professional organization that offers certification to a variety of social work specialists, including those who work in hospice care, gerontology and health care. To become a Certified Social Worker in Health Care (C-SWHC), you need to have earned an MSW and acquired your two years of supervised clinical experience hours working with clients with health concerns.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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