Medical and Health Social Workers

Medical conditions affect far more than the body. They can result in an onslaught of emotional, financial, and social needs. Social workers are adept at helping people meet these sorts of needs – and so we find social workers in many locations where health services are delivered. They are known as medical and health care social workers. They may serve as case managers, patient navigators, and therapists.

mediacl and health social worker with patient

The largest percentage of healthcare social workers work in hospital settings. Some are in outpatient health centers.

In hospital settings, social workes may handle discharge 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 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.

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 gain actual first hand knowledge of the Medical Social Work field read: "The Medical Social Worker: Following patient interactions in the healthcare system" by Janina Kwilos, MSW, LCSW.

Medical and Health Social Worker Education

A master’s degree is generally required, although some positions go to baccalaureate social workers. A BSW will have a more limited range of duties, for example, discharge planning.

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 USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work offers a CSWE-accredited online Master's in Social Work. This program is top-ranked by US News and World Report. The GRE is not required to apply to the [email protected] program. Bachelor's required. Learn more about this program.

Aspiring social workers can earn an MSW online from Simmons College in as few as 15 months. To be admitted to [email protected], candidates must hold a bachelor’s degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA from an accredited college or university. Request information.

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. Click here to request information about The Worden School of Social Service at Our Lady of the Lake University Online Master of Social Work program.

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. Click Here to contact Capella University about their Master of Social Work program or Doctor of Social Work program.

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

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

Medical and Health Social Worker Licensing and Certification

Master’s level social workers are licensed in all U.S. jurisdictions. The process includes taking one or more licensing exams through the Association of Social Work Boards. To achieve the highest 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 Health 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.

Further Reading:

Read about how Illinois Hospital Social Workers are leading the way in preventing hospital re-admissions: "Social Workers Tackle the Root Causes of Hospital Re-Admission"

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