Social workers make up a large sub-sector within the field of Human Services and one of the largest fields of practice in social work is healthcare. Healthcare social workers provide patients and their families with the psychosocial support they need to cope with acute, chronic, or terminal illnesses and help alleviate the psychological and financial hardships of debilitating health conditions. Individuals wanting to serve people facing challenging medical issues and to help ensure they don’t unnecessarily suffer due to socioeconomic barriers are ideal candidates for this career path. Employment of all types of social workers is projected to grow 13% between 2019 and 2029, but growth will vary by specialization.
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Social Worker FAQs
What does a social worker do?
Medical social workers help patients understand their diagnoses and make necessary adjustments in their healthcare, housing, and lifestyles. They provide information on support groups, home healthcare, or other services that help patients manage their illnesses or disease. Medical social workers offer counseling, make referrals for necessary services, and may provide case/care management or interventions. Depending on the healthcare setting, a medical social worker’s daily responsibilities vary, but some of the primary work activities can include:
Leading support group discussions
Providing individual counseling
Responding to child abuse situations and mental health emergencies
Screening patients with a history of mental illness or other high-risk criteria
Assessing patients’ financial, emotional, social, and environmental needs
Facilitating communication between patients and healthcare providers
Educating patients and their families on community resources, health insurance coverage, and other assistance
Ensuring services patients require are available prior to discharge
Linking patients with social service providers
Arranging resources to cover the cost of medications and/or medical equipment
Coordinating home care services
Advocating for patients’ rights through health policy recommendations
Developing standards of practice and improving health programs
Educating healthcare professionals on the mental and emotional effects that illnesses and diseases have on patients
Providing services designed to prevent disease, promote healthy lifestyles, and address barriers to healthcare
Maintaining case files and patient records
Where do social workers work?
Medical social workers are usually part of an interdisciplinary healthcare team who works together to serve patients with various conditions encompassing the whole healthcare continuum. Healthcare social workers often work in hospitals or outpatient care centers, providing assistance to patients coping with acute or chronic conditions or illnesses. They may specialize in geriatric social work or hospice and palliative care and work in nursing homes, skilled nursing facilities, assisted care facilities, residential treatment centers, or home healthcare services. Medical social workers may also find employment in mental health clinics, community development corporations, drug and alcohol centers, or private practices.
What skills make a good social worker?
Communication and interpersonal skills are two top skills for good social workers so they can listen to and understand patients’ needs, provide effective assistance, and foster healthy, productive relationships with patients and colleagues alike. Successful medical social workers are compassionate, empathetic, and patient as they often work with individuals who find themselves in difficult and stressful situations. They possess excellent organizational and time management skills to handle multiple patients simultaneously and tackle a frequently heavy caseload. Good social workers also have superb critical thinking and problem-solving skills that allow them to come up with practical and innovative solutions to address the various problems their clients face.
How to become a Travel Social Worker
A bachelor’s degree in social work is the most common requirement for an entry-level administrative position, but 92% of BLS respondents working as medical social workers had a master’s degree. Clinical social workers are required to have a master’s degree, complete at least two years of supervised clinical experience post-graduation, and pass a national exam for licensure. Licensed clinical social workers can diagnose and treat mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders.
Every state requires clinical social workers to be licensed and most states require nonclinical social workers to be certified or licensed. The National Association of Social Workers offers the Certified Social Worker in Health Care (C-SWHC) credential, which requires applicants to possess a master’s degree from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. Contact the state licensure board for licensing requirements in a specific state. Travel social worker job posters often require one or two years of social work experience.