Become a Medical Social Worker

People dealing with medical problems and poor health often experience emotional, personal, and financial strain. A student planning on becoming a medical social worker can look forward to being a member of an interdisciplinary team who helps patients and their family members cope with these challenges. Medical social workers take a holistic approach to addressing the psychosocial concerns of their clients.


What Is a Medical Social Worker?

A medical social worker informs patients of their rights, helps them navigate the health care system, and discusses their emotional and personal needs.

Typical responsibilities of medical social workers include patient discharge, grief counseling, payment strategies, medical referrals, abuse reporting, and group facilitation. These professionals often work with people of all ages — adults, children, older adults, and their families.

Many people delay or avoid necessary health care because they have limited health insurance or they are intimidated by the complexity of the medical system. With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, medical social workers are increasingly assisting people to access more affordable care and advocate for them to obtain appropriate treatment.

A medical social worker’s support may continue after a patient leaves the care of the hospital or health care center. Medical social workers working with older adults often help patients in finding assisted living situations or home health care services.

What Skills Do Medical Social Workers Need?

Medical social workers should have a working knowledge of common medical conditions and procedures so they can effectively communicate with patients, their family members, doctors, nurses, and other medical staff members.

They also benefit from being trained in motivational interviewing, collaborative problem solving, and solution-focused approaches. They should also be skilled in grief work and crisis intervention, as the job may involve counseling grieving family members or reporting cases of suspected child or elder abuse.

Where Are the Medical Social Work Jobs?

While most medical social workers are employed by hospitals, they may work for a variety of medical care providers — including outpatient health centers, emergency departments, rehabilitation centers, assisted living centers, nursing homes, and hospices.

Medical social workers also may find employment with government agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

What Are the Requirements to Become a Medical Social Worker?

To become a medical social worker, students need to earn a master’s degree in social work from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). Occasionally, professionals who hold a bachelor’s degree take on limited responsibilities or work under the supervision of a medical social worker with an advanced degree.

Medical social workers are also typically licensed by the Association of Social Work Boards, which requires professionals to pass licensing exams and work under supervision for two to three years.

Employment Outlook

Becoming a medical social worker gives students the opportunity to work in a fast-paced environment and pursue a career path that’s experiencing significant growth. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment in this field is expected to increase by 27 percent between 2012 and 2022 — giving it one of the best job outlooks of all social work fields.