What Is Medical Social Work?
Medical social workers address the emotional, social and financial needs that frequently accompany health care issues. They serve as case managers, counselors and advocates, providing patients and families with the nonmedical support needed to deal with acute, chronic and terminal conditions. Medical social workers also provide referrals to health care resources and help locate financial and legal assistance in the community.
The majority of medical social workers work in general medical and surgical hospitals. They are also employed by outpatient clinics, residential care facilities and home health care services. In hospital settings, medical social workers may be responsible for reviewing new admissions, handling patient discharges and following up on aftercare plans. In this capacity, they may be called upon at any hour of the day or night. Other types of support provided by medical social workers include helping patients make informed decisions about treatment options and providing advice about advanced directives and end-of-life planning.
In addition to the routine aspects of their roles, medical social workers often must respond to crisis situations and provide psychological assessments and clinical therapy. They frequently address the needs of entire families, especially when managing a caseload that includes patients who are children. Besides providing support for the treatment of disease and chronic conditions, medical social workers also promote strategies for maintaining health and wellness.
Medical Social Work Jobs
The job outlook for medial social workers is very good, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicting a 27 percent gain in employment between 2012 and 2022, which is a much higher rate than average for all occupations. The aging of the baby-boom generation will in large part fuel an increase in demand for medical social workers as older people and their families require assistance with health care decisions and related social services.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual medical social worker salary in May 2013 paid by hospitals was $58,050. The mean salaries for social workers in other health care settings range from $52,840 to $57,380. States with the highest employment levels for medical social workers include California, New York, Massachusetts, Texas and Pennsylvania. The states that pay the most for this occupation, with mean salaries ranging from $61,030 to $68,830, are California, Nevada, Connecticut and Rhode Island, along with the District of Columbia.
Become a Medical Social Worker
Medical social workers are required to navigate the increasing complex U.S. health care system and frequently make decisions that directly affect patient outcomes. To prepare for the high level of responsibility the career entails, medical social workers must have at least a bachelor’s degree. In order to practice as a clinical social worker, a Master of Social Work degree from a program that is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education is required. State licensure is also required for clinical social workers who work in medical settings. In addition to professional training, it is important for medical social workers to have strong interpersonal and organizational skills and to possess a sense of compassion.
Many social work schools – for example our partner the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work – offer concentrations in health that provide the knowledge, skills, and healthcare education required for careers in medical social work. These concentrations allow students to focus on case management, team development, integrative medicine, medical advocacy and other areas that are critical to the practice of medical social work.