Becoming a professional social worker requires a Masters Degree of Social Work (MSW) and attaining an advanced degree can benefit your career immeasurably. An MSW demonstrates that you are serious about sharpening your skills and that you are committed to making a difference in the lives of others. MSW programs blend academic instruction with practical training, so having your master’s additionally proves that you can put academic learning into applicable action. An MSW degree not only increases your chances of advancing your career , but once you find a job, it can help you secure a higher salary. Social work salaries vary depending on where you work, but the median salary for social workers is $55,000 annually External link . Social workers with an MSW degree can expect to earn an average annual income of $15,000 more than social workers with an undergraduate degree. Social workers with a license earn a median annual income of $5,000 more than unlicensed social workers. Each state has its own requirements for practicing social work, so keep that in mind during your job search.
Where Do Social Workers Work? There are three main categories of social work:
1. Medical/Public Health practice in hospitals, hospices, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, assisted living facilities and emergency rooms. As a medical/public health social worker, you will assist patients who are sick and require support. Your duties entail advocating for the patient’s medical rights by ensuring that they are receiving the proper care, aiding them with paperwork and important decisions, and acting as a liaison between the patient and their caregivers. A seriously ill person may not always understand what is happening to them, and it becomes your job to help them cope with their situation.
2. Mental Health and Substance Abuse These social workers most often deal with patients in mental facilities, rehabilitation centers and prisons. While not all social service positions require an MSW degree, this field includes a number of paraprofessionals with only a certification. As a substance abuse social worker, you will deal with people struggling with addiction and must help them cope with withdrawal, relapses and emotional trauma. Mental health social workers often seek licensure as clinical social workers (LCSW), which qualifies them to work with children and adults suffering from mental disorders. These individuals often have difficulty caring for themselves and performing daily activities, so often times social workers find various community supports so these clients can remain independent and functioning in the community. As a mental health social worker, you will assess your client’s in maintaining their mental health and in meeting the everyday challenges they may face as a result of their condition.
3. Child, Family and School This area of social work can simultaneously be the most rewarding and challenging. As a child, family and school social worker, you will be responsible for ensuring the well-being of children, both at home and at school. You will work with families to ensure children are being cared for properly and that the home environment is conducive to healthy development. Sometimes you may deal with abused children and will be responsible for facilitating intervention by Child Protective Services . You may also help low-income families access resources to help support themselves. There are different capacities in which social workers can practice in a school. Here, you can be a liaison between teachers and students’ families, making sure the child’s needs are met both at home and at school. Guidance counselors are sometimes social workers, and you can even work with special-needs children to facilitate their integration into mainstream classes. You can become an advocate for the educational and social needs of students, and help recognize problems such as bullying, learning disorders and depression.