Medical and Healthcare Social Workers

Medical conditions affect far more than the body. They can result in an onslaught of emotional, financial, and social needs.

diverse team of medical professionals
Social workers are adept at helping people meet these sorts of needs – and so we find social workers in many locations where healthcare services are delivered. They are known as medical and healthcare social workers. They may serve as case managers, patient navigators, and therapists in medical settings.

The largest percentage of healthcare social workers work in hospital settings. A growing number of healthcare social workers are working in outpatient healthcare settings or nursing/rehabilitation facilities.

Covered in This Article:

Featured Online Programs

In hospital settings, medical social workers may handle discharge planning and also review new admissions for issues that need addressing. They may help patients locate various resources within their communities. In these settings, they may work any hour of the day or night.

A hospital social worker may have a caseload of patients with widely varying needs. Some will need to weigh the risks and benefits of different healthcare options. Some will need help writing advanced directives or making end of life planning.

Social workers in outpatient clinic settings coordinate care for patients who are expected to need a continuum of services. When children have complex health needs, the medical and health social worker may work with the whole family to ensure that are understood and can be provided for by the family.

In addition to handling the regular routines, a medical social worker needs to handle crises as they arrive. This may involve offering counseling or therapy. Social workers in medical settings sometimes treat or even diagnose psychological conditions.

To read a first hand account of a healthcare social worker visit: The Medical Social Worker: Following patient interactions in the healthcare system

Medical and Hospital Social Worker Education

A master’s degree is generally required, although some positions may allow baccalaureate social workers. A BSW will have a more limited range of duties, for example, discharge planning. Many times licensure by a state board of social work will be required for employment in medical settings.

Prospective medical and health social workers should enter social work programs accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). There are multiple specialties available. A concentration in clinical social work would be appropriate. Sometimes there is an opportunity to select health as a practice area.

The Worden School of Social Service at Our Lady of the Lake University’s online Master of Social Work is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) Commission on Accreditation and is designed for working adults with or without a social work bachelor’s degree.

Capella University is now offering an online Master of Social Work that is in CSWE candidacy status. The MSW program helps prepare students to enter the general or clinical practice role (in most states). Capella also offers an online Doctor of Social Work.

All programs include a fieldwork component. A student with a health concentration could expect to spend time interning in a health facility.

Some medical or hospital social workers earn certificates by taking a course sequence in a particular branch of health, for example, HIV and AIDS or gerontology.

Medical and Hospital Social Worker Licensing and Certification

Most medical or hospital social work positions will require licensure. The process includes taking one or more licensing exams through the Association of Social Work Boards and application to the State Board of Social Work. To achieve the clincial level of licensing, a social worker must spend a period of time, usually two to three years, working under supervision. A supervisor will offer consultation and may ultimately have the responsibility of making a recommendation for licensure.

Some medical and health social workers opt for additional voluntary certifications to show off their expertise in a particular specialty. The National Association of Social Workers offers the Certified Social Worker in Health Care (C-SWHC). Click Here to learn more about the C-SWHC Certification process and requirements. This is awarded to professionals who have two years of relevant post-master supervised experience and have done 20 contact hours of continuing education.

Medical and Hospital Social Worker Salary and Career Outlook

The BLS reports a median salary of $48,620 for healthcare social workers (mean: $50,500).

The Workforce Center of NASW has also conducted comprehensive salary surveys. These provide additional details about variables that affect salary. (Reported averages are slightly higher among NASW respondents.)

NASW reports a median salary of $55,000 for MSW social workers employed in health clinics. In hospital settings, the median is $40,100 for those at the BSW level and $60,000 for those at the MSW level. When broken down instead by experience, the median in hospital settings is $52,000 for those with less than 9 years under their belts and $64,900 for those with 20 or more years.

Although NASW has reported some issues with closures of hospital social work departments, the BLS projects an impressive 34% growth in jobs for healthcare social workers between 2010 and 2020, noting population aging as a significant factor.

Medical Social Work Further Reading: