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Medical Social Work Careers ? Make a Difference As Part of the Healthcare Team

Home > Medical Social Work Careers ? Make a Difference As Part of the Healthcare Team
clinical social work

Medical Social Workers are an integral part of the healthcare team whether it be in a hospital, rehab setting, home health or hospice program. When it comes to discharge planning, community resources, crisis intervention and understanding the psychosocial aspects of illness, the healthcare team often turns to the the Medical Social Worker. Social Workers provide psychosocial support to people, families, or vulnerable populations so they can cope with issues such as grief, addictions, chronic, acute, or terminal illnesses.

Social Workers also advise family caregivers, counsel patients, and help plan for patients’ needs after discharge from hospitals. Some work on interdisciplinary teams that evaluate certain kinds of patients—geriatric or organ transplant patients, for example. Medical Social Workers may work for hospitals, nursing and personal care facilities, individual and family services agencies, or local governments. The average salary for a typical Medical Social Worker (MSW) in the United States is $53,397, and could vary depending on employer size, industry, employee credentials, years of experience and other factors.

What Education Does A Social Work Career Require?

While a bachelor’s degree is the minimum requirement, a master’s degree in social work or a related field has become the standard for most positions. Most accredited healthcare programs (hospitals, home health, hospice) require that the social worker have a MSW and, depending on state regulations, a license (LCSW, LSW). Generally the Master’s in Social Work must be from a CSWE accredited school of social work. Obtaining a Master`s degree in Social Work serves as the foundation to advanced education such as a PhD in HS - Clinical Social Work degree which gives practicing Social Workers the necessary credentials to enjoy increased autonomy in private practice. Some people think that a degree in psychology or social sciences is equivalent to a degree in social work, but it is not. Social work, as a profession, has a unique body of knowledge and value system.

Social Work Perspective

Social workers are trained to understand and work with the person in a societal context. They are true systems thinkers. When it comes to discharging a patient to the community, the social worker will have assessed the patients’ support system, community agencies that can assist the patient and the patient’s ability to cope with post-medical living.

Social workers are trained in understanding the psychosocial aspects of a person’s life. They are skilled counselors, usually doing brief therapy or crisis intervention, and are great at putting together a comprehensive discharge plan with the healthcare team.

Social workers collaborate with physicians, registered nurses, physical therapists, and other health care professionals in order to advocate for and meet patient needs. They must be able to cooperate as part of a multidisciplinary team, communicate clearly with both patients and staff, and be able to to quickly engage the patient in a therapeutic relationship.

Discharge Planning

One of the primary roles of a social worker in a medical setting is discharge planning. It is the medical social worker`s responsibility to ensure that the services the patient requires, such as long term care placement, medical equipment, or home care, are in place in order to facilitate a timely discharge and prevent unnecessary and costly delays. Assessment and discharge planning should begin at admission or even before.

You will often see social workers negotiating with insurance companies, finding free medication programs, arranging for home care services, arranging meetings with the patients’ family, and providing emotional support to the patient as they transition to the next level of care. Without a safe discharge plan, a patient cannot be discharged. And, in complex cases, the social worker is often the key to arranging a safe plan.

Crisis Intervention

Crisis intervention is a method of counseling used to offer immediate, short-term help to individuals who experience an event that produces emotional, mental, physical, and behavioral distress or problems. Social workers are trained in crisis intervention techniques.

Decision-making Counseling

Using short-term therapy concepts, social workers are skilled at helping patients and families look at options and arrive at decision, usually focusing on discharge.

Ethics and End of Life Issues

Social workers, as advocates, are often in the forefront of ethical decision-making. By using their assessment skills, their understanding of family dynamics and their clear mandate to advocate for the wishes of the patient, the social worker can easily advocate for the patient’s end of life wishes with the healthcare team. Many social workers have ethics training in addition to their coursework in social work.

Why Be a Medical Social Worker

  • Medical social workers are an integral part of the healthcare team.
  • Hosptial based social workers often make more money than community based social workers
  • Helping people with critical healthcare decisions is time-limited and rewarding. Often people are in crisis due to the severity of the situation – normal people dealing with abnormal circumstances.
  • Medical social workers have the opportunity to expand their medical knowledge while working in a healthcare setting.

Some social workers go into private practice. Most private practitioners are clinical social workers who provide counseling and psychotherapy, usually paid for through health insurance or by the client themselves. Private practitioners must have at least a master’s degree, a license,  and a period of supervised work experience.


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