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What Are the Education Requirements to Be a Medical Social Worker?

Medical or healthcare social workers act as advocates for people with serious medical issues. Read on to discover the job duties you'd perform as a medical social worker, and learn about the educational steps you'll need to take to enter this career field.

Education for Medical Social Workers

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most social workers in a healthcare setting require a master's degree. (www.bls.gov). All states require some form of certification or licensure. The steps necessary to obtain licensure vary from state to state.

Important Facts about This Field of Study

Similar Careers Social worker in a correctional facility, victim services, or grief counseling
Online Availability Fully-online degree programs available
Degree/Certificate Levels Bachelor and master degrees
Certification The National Association of Social Workers offers the voluntary Certified Social Worker in Health Care credential.

Undergraduate Degree Program Requirements

If you're looking to study social work at the undergraduate level, pursuing a bachelor's in social work will introduce you to different areas of social work, such as juvenile and adult justice, immigration, mental health, child welfare, domestic issues and substance abuse. You'll be required to take courses on human behavior, psychology, ethics, sociology. Many undergraduate programs include practicum classes in their list of major requirements; in these courses, you'll participate in current research or field study.

A bachelor's degree program prepares you for general social work. You may not become a medical social worker immediately after completing your degree program. According to the BLS, most entry-level positions require a bachelor's degree in social work, but you could be considered a competitive candidate if you have a degree in psychology, sociology or another field related to the study of human interaction.

Graduate Degree Program Requirements

According to the BLS, to improve your chances of becoming a medical social worker, you'll need a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree. A master's degree program will allow you to specialize in clinical social work. To be admitted into one of these programs, your bachelor's degree can be in any subject.

As an MSW student, you'll take general courses on human behavior and development, sociology, public policy and social justice issues. You'll also be required to do research in your area of concentration and participate in field studies or internships. This hands-on experience is particularly important, as it will give you the experience needed to pursue licensure once you've graduated.

As a medical social work intern, you'll help patients and their families cope with illness and provide for patients' needs. Many graduate programs emphasize the field study aspect, and often field studies, internships and other practicum-based courses make up the bulk of the second year of study.

If you enter an MSW program as a full-time student, you would typically receive your degree in two years. However, many graduate programs also offer a part-time option if you're unable to go to school full-time. The time frame for part-time programs varies; some schools will require you to finish in two years, while others allow you to complete the program in three or more years.

Job Description

As a medical social worker, you'll provide physical, emotional and psychological support to chronically or terminally ill patients, organ transplant recipients, elderly people and other populations that need medical advocates. Your duties could include organizing support groups, helping medical staff make discharge plans, making referrals and following up with patients who have already been discharged. You may specialize in helping a specific type of patient or you may coordinate caregiving services for a spectrum of patients, and you'll divide your time between the office, hospitals and your clients' homes. You may work for a hospital, a long-term care facility, an individual agency or the government.

How to Become Licensed

According to the BLS, most states require you to acquire at least two years or 3,000 hours of supervised practice and pass a clinical exam to become licensed or certified; however, each state has its own requirements for credentialing, and the BLS guidelines do not apply to every state. Some states require you to have completed a bachelor's degree program, supervised field study and an exam, while others refuse to provide licensure or certification until you've graduated from a master's program. Be sure to check your state's guidelines to see what you need to do to become licensed or certified.

Career and Salary Info

The BLS projected that employment of healthcare social workers would grow 20% between 2016 and 2026. This was faster than the expected 16% increase in employment for all social workers during this time frame. The aging baby boomer generation will need social workers to help them find healthcare, increasing demand for medical social workers. The BLS reported that in May 2018, healthcare social workers earned an average annual wage of $58,470.