How Can I Become a Medical Social Worker?

Explore the career requirements for medical social workers. Get the facts about education and licensure requirements, job duties, salary and the career outlook to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Clinical Social Work degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Medical Social Worker?

Medical social workers are also known as healthcare social workers. Medical social workers may work in hospitals, hospices or medical clinics. Their focus is providing assistance to individuals who are ill or the family members of a patient. They may help patients process their diagnosis and come to terms with how the diagnosis will affect their life. They may also help family members make lifestyle or housing adjustments to accommodate the ill family member. These social workers also provide their patients with resource information, such as information about support groups or home healthcare services.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree for entry-level; master's degree for clinical practice
Training Required Supervised practicum or internship
Educational Field of Study Social work, psychology, sociology, social welfare policy
Licensure Requirements Licensure typically required, particularly for clinical practice; specialty certification is available
Job Growth (2014-2024)* 19%
Median Salary (2015)* $52,380

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Does a Medical Social Worker Do?

As a medical social worker, you may provide support and advice to patients and families during and after hospitalization or institutional care. You may also help arrange services after discharge, and provide case management and evaluation services during and after a hospital or nursing facility stay. Medical social workers also provide counseling to patients and families who are living with a traumatic illness or adjusting to a disability or other life-changing medical issue.

What Education and Training Will I Need?

For entry-level positions, you will need at least a bachelor's degree in social work (BSW). However, most positions in the field will require that you hold a master's degree in social work (MSW) from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). Such programs are designed to provide you with professional skills as well as clinical training, and generally take 2-3 years to complete. They can also allow you to choose from specific concentrations, such as clinical practice or community practice. In addition to completing educational requirements, you will need to fulfill individual state licensing or certification requirements.

You can obtain professional certification and specialty credentials through the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). During your education and training, you can network with medical social workers practicing in the field and have access to professional development programs by joining your local chapter of the NASW. Among the advanced practice specialty credentials available through the NASW are credentials in gerontology, hospice and palliative care, as well as the Certified Social Worker in Health Care (C-SWHC). These certifications require documented, supervised training after the MSW in the specific area, as well as a pledge to adhere to the NASW Code of Ethics and Standards for Continuing Professional Education.

What Is the Job Outlook for Medical Social Workers?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects greater than average growth for the medical social work field during the decade 2014-2024 (www.bls.gov). Medical social workers are tied with mental health and substance abuse social workers as the fastest growing social work specialties, with a projected 19% increase during this decade. Those who specialize in working with the elderly will see the greatest increase as the population continues to age.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Health educators, community health workers and social and human service assistants all work in the same general career field as medical social workers. Health educators teach people about healthy lifestyle choices to promote wellbeing. Their focus is on the health of people in their community. Their work is comparable to the work of a healthcare social worker because they help people make lifestyle adjustments to live a healthier life. Social workers may help individuals make lifestyle adjustments due to a health condition. Health educators need a bachelors' degree.

Community health workers help community members locate services, such as those offered by health educators or social service professionals. Their work is similar to the work of a healthcare social worker in this respect because social workers may also provide community resource information to their patients. Community health workers need a high school diploma.

Social and human service assistants need a high school diploma or GED, and may work with social workers or psychologists. They help people locate community services that they may need, which is something healthcare social workers may also do for their clients.

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