Going to the hospital can be terrifying. Whether someone has been in a car accident, suffered a heart attack, or needs a new knee, chances are they’d rather be almost anywhere else. Even going to the hospital to have a baby can deliver a mix of joy, pain, and fear.
Hospital social workers help people cope with pain, fear, and uncertainty. They work with patients, as well as their loved ones, to acclimate them to an unfamiliar environment and get the resources they need during and after their hospital stay.
In this article we’ll look hohw to become a hospital social worker by answering these questions:
Hospital social workers can help ease the strain of a hospital visit or stay.
“Medical social workers are responsible for integrating care with the patient’s personal life and support systems, arenas that do not fall under the expertise of doctors,” explains the American Journal of Managed Care. Their workload includes “assessing the impact of all social, financial, emotional, cognitive, environmental, financial, and other support needs of the patient, communicating these within the system and to external systems such as in-home care, and establishing plans for continued care and well-being.”
Responsibilities may include:
Many patients only spend a night or two in the hospital, meaning social workers must get the information they need and take any necessary action on a tight deadline.
“You have to be able to help patients determine their next steps in just one or two meetings,” says Renee Michelsen, a clinical associate professor of social work at the University of Southern California’s Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work.
There are a couple of significant practical considerations:
- A Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in social work
- A license to practice or required social work certification
Credentials vary among careers, states, and territories. Licenses include:
- Certified Social Worker (CSW)
- Clinical Social Work Associate (CSWA)
- Licensed Advanced Practice Social Worker (LAPSW)
- Licensed Advanced Social Worker (LASW)
- Licensed Baccalaureate Social Worker (LBSW)
- Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)
- Licensed Graduate Social Worker (LGSW)
- Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW)
- Licensed Mental Health Professional (LMHP)
- Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW)
Most of these licenses require a Master’s or Doctorate, along with additional coursework or clinical internships. ( )
A survey of 2017 social work graduates by the National Social Work Workforce Study found that social workers with Master’s degrees and Doctorates made substantially more than those with no advanced degree. ( )
- People with MSW degrees made $13,000-plus more than those with only BSW degrees
- MSWs make more in large cities or urban clusters
- People with doctorates earned $20,000 to $25,000 more than people with only MSW degrees
|University and Program Name||Learn More|
Social work ranks high among the helping professions, and hospital social workers help people in some of their most vulnerable moments.
“It is a great role for someone that wants to have direct patient care that is not clinical in nature,” observes the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science. “Compassionate people that are good listeners, detail oriented, and great at communicating may enjoy a career as a medical social worker.”
Reddit user owlthebeer97 puts “never boring” among the reasons she enjoys her job: “You are the expert in what you do, and lots of other clinicians to assist you. You learn so much about medical conditions, insurance, community resources. You get to help people who are in an acute crisis and sometimes make a big difference in their life.”
Most hospital jobs require a bachelor’s degree in social work, at minimum. Licensing requirements vary from state to state. Some hospitals require a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree. Both an MSW and certification may increase your ability to land the job of your choice.
Indeed lists a handful of key skills for a hospital social worker:
Schools offering concentrations or certificate programs in healthcare social work include:
Veteran hospital social worker Sheila Singleton outlined a typical workday in a Quora post: “Working in a hospital setting is different from most social work jobs. The culture and atmosphere are surrounded by sickness, sadness, and triumph.”
A typical day depends on what part of the hospitalone works in, such as the emergency room or intensive care unit, Singleton writes. In her job on a medical-surgical unit, she starts her day by checking messages and completing paperwork from the previous day. Then she checks the hospital census to see which patients had been admitted and discharged. Up next: rounds, in which Singleton checks in on patients along with a team that might also include doctors, nurses, and physical and occupational therapists, among others.
“My role was to focus on patients who were ready for release and to ensure it is safe for them to go home,” Singleton writes.
She might line up accommodations in another care facility, such as a nursing home or rehabilitation center. Patients returning home might need her help arranging for specialized services such IV antibiotics or home physical therapy. Such services might require prior authorization from an insurance company, another responsibility that a hospital social worker might handle.
Another set of rounds might involve meeting new patients, providing counseling, dealing with complaints, managing crisis situations, and resolving disputes between the medical team and a patient and their support network. The day would wrap up with additional paperwork.
“Have you noticed I did not mention lunch?” Singleton writes. “My lunchtime was scheduled for 1 p.m. However, I found myself having lunch at 3 p.m. or on my way home at 5 or 6 p.m.”
While helping people can prove very rewarding, hospital social workers also face many challenges in such an intense, high-stakes environment. Some of the biggest challenges include:
The rewards of hospital social work can make the challenges easier to bear. Those rewards include:
“I cherish the opportunity to help clients feel less alone,” said Elizabeth Kelly, a hospital social worker in Washington, D.C. “By educating them and normalizing their experiences, I get to witness moments in personal growth. There is nothing better than seeing someone not just survive, but thrive.”
Medical social workers who work in general medical and surgical hospitals make an annual mean wage of $71,710, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Those who work in individual and family services earn just under $51,000 annually, while those employed in home healthcare earn just over $67,000 per year. Among the five states with the highest employment levels for healthcare social workers, the annual mean wage ranges from $58,420 in Florida to $84,690 in California.
The job outlook for social workers in general looks good for the next few years. The BLS projects growth of nine percent from 2021 to 2031, faster than the average for all occupations.
Questions or feedback? Email firstname.lastname@example.org