While combating serious injury or illness, patients need more than medicine to successfully recover. They need someone to help them manage an often complicated course of treatment and learn how to access the resources and support needed during that process.
Health care social workers are the lifeline patients can turn to help arrange the financial assistance and medical services they need. Here’s what you need to know about social workers working in medical facilities.
What is a Health Care Social Worker?
A health care social worker is a specialty position within the social work field. Health care social workers help people gain access to the information and services they need to take care of their health issues.
Social workers in health care wear many hats to be the client’s coordinator of care, educator, advisor and advocate for preserving the client’s health and dignity. In essence, health care social workers help their patients navigate the often confusing and stressful world of health care.
What a Health Care Social Worker Does
Guiding patients through the complex health care system as a health care social worker can include helping patients find and pay for medical care and referring patients to medical facilities or programs.
To do so, these types of social workers evaluate a patient’s needs by interviewing the patient, their doctors, and their family. Based on the results of their assessment, health care social workers can then coordinate the necessary medical services for their patients, such as medical equipment rentals, transportation to future doctor’s appointments, and home health services.
Critical thinking, patience, and emotional intelligence and strength are important qualities social workers in health care need to successfully pursue this career path.
Above all, social workers need to be able to communicate and collaborate with their colleagues and peers. They also must be good problem solvers to resolve any serious crises that crop up for their patients.
For most positions in this field, health care social workers need to have a social work master’s degree as well as a state license.
The health care social worker plays a very important role in their patients’ lives. These specialized workers are responsible for helping those in their charge get access to better health care by finding the right services and support for patients and families that are coping with acute, chronic, or terminal injury or illness.
For social workers who help patients struggling with mental illness, in particular, they need to ensure their patients understand the programs and services available to them, including legal aid, financial assistance, education, job opportunities, and housing options.
Exact job tasks that a social worker can expect to do in this specialty will vary based on patients’ medical needs.
But as part of their daily responsibilities, social workers working in medical facilities perform the following tasks while continuously evaluating each patient’s status and progress, paying close attention to environmental issues that could hamper the patient’s road to recovery:
- Performing complete psychological assessments
- Arranging home care services
- Securing appropriate referrals
- Providing information about applicable support groups
- Developing discharge plans
- Advocating continuously for patients and their families.
Health Care Social Workers Salary and Employment Statistics
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national employment estimate for social workers in health care is expected to rise by about 1.5% every year. The median salary is about $59,300 per year and $28.51 per hour.
The industries with the highest employment and salaries for social workers in health care are the following:
- General medical and surgical hospitals at $65,980 per year and $31.72 per hour
- Individual and family services at $52,460 per year and $25.22 per hour
- Home health care services at $61,900 per year and $29.76 per hour
- Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities) at $55,630 and $26.75 per hour
- Outpatient care centers at $61,420 per year and $29.53 per hour
The states with the highest employment level for health care social workers are:
- New York
How to Become a Health Care Social Worker
For those looking to become a health care social worker, Study.com has listed out requirements for each of the following steps to earn the necessary degree(s) and license:
1. Earn an Undergraduate Degree.
Students looking to enter into the health care social worker field typically earn their bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW). Accredited BSW curricula can require up to 400 hours of field experience in addition to classroom coursework.
Students earning their undergraduate degree in psychology or sociology are also qualified to work in entry-level health care social worker positions.
2. Gain Work Experience.
Once students have earned their degree, they can gain some professional experience as a general social worker before going on to specialize in health care social work.
Many prospective health care social workers gain experience in entry-level positions at state-run social service agencies. In such positions, they can learn the following type of skills hands-on:
- How to handle multiple caseloads
- How to help clients with securing financial aid or job-related assistance.
Another available and common option is working in a mental health or substance abuse treatment facility. In these facilities, they can get experience in the following:
- Become familiar with working in a clinical setting
- Learn how to work with clients who have emotional problems as well as how to assist family members with finding the right coping mechanisms.
3. Obtain a Master’s Degree.
Most Masters of Science in Social Work (MSW) programs grant advanced status for students with a BSW from an accredited institution.
In an MSW program, students can concentrate on a particular field of study, including health care social work, to advance and apply the concepts they’ve learned in their undergraduate program.
An MSW typically takes two years to complete and requires 900 hours of fieldwork or a health care social work internship in a clinical setting.
4. Become Licensed.
Social worker board qualifications for licensure vary by state. However, after earning a graduate degree, social workers need to accrue a minimum of 3,000 hours of supervised clinical experience or at least two years of applicable professional experience.
After meeting those requirements, they can be eligible for the exam administered by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) to earn their Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) status.
Just like many other medical degrees, the process to become a social worker in health care can require many resources, particularly money and time. But for those dedicated in pursuing this as a career and a specialty, social work in medical settings can be engaging and rewarding.