Social Work Careers

Counseling a teenager who struggles with alcohol abuse. Connecting an elderly hospital patient with community health resources. Helping a family of four overcome challenges related to poverty and divorce. 

These are just a few of the hundreds of ways in which social workers are promoting equality and social justice while changing lives in their communities. For many, the first step toward making a difference is earning a master’s degree in social work. 

A Master of Social Work (MSW) provides students with the knowledge and skills to serve a range of populations within a variety of professional settings. SocialWork@Simmons graduates are prepared to meet not only current societal needs but also emerging ones, including those posed by millions of aging Americans and people struggling with substance abuse.

What kind of social work interests you? Learn more about the careers in social work you could pursue after earning your MSW.


Health Care/Aging

By 2026, demand for health care social workers is expected to increase by 20 percent — faster than the average for all occupations. This growth is driven in part by the changing medical landscape that includes the Affordable Care Act, the expansion of Medicare, and an aging baby boomer population.

Health care or geriatric social workers help clients and their families cope with illness and aging. Their daily responsibilities include the following:

  • providing counseling or psychotherapy to individuals, couples, or families
  • collaborating with physicians, nurses, and personal care attendants
  • connecting clients and their families to available community services or helping them navigate our health care and welfare systems
  • connecting clients to systems that provide social support to decrease social isolation and increase interactions outside of the home
  • identifying, assessing, and treating mental health conditions
  • providing case management services that ensure coordination of care
  • influencing social welfare policy by advising government officials and/or advocacy organization leaders on the needs of aging or ill populations

Career Options

Medical Social Worker

Along with doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals, medical social workers comprise an interdisciplinary team that helps patients achieve their long-term health goals. Through counseling, advocacy, and other services, medical social workers provide essential support to patients before, during, and after they are diagnosed with short-term or chronic medical conditions. 

  • Career settings include community health centers and health homes, hospice care, hospitals and emergency rooms, outpatient treatment centers, school-based health centers, senior centers, and Veterans Health Administration hospitals.
  • Essential skills include grief and crisis intervention; knowledge of common medical conditions and procedures to ensure effective communication with patients, families, doctors, nurses, staff, and other stakeholders; motivational interviewing; and problem-solving.

Learn more about becoming a medical social worker.

Gerontological Social Worker

America’s population is rapidly aging, and gerontological social workers are helping millions of people make the transition to a healthy older adulthood. Gerontological social workers are also making a difference for families of older Americans, giving them the peace of mind that their loved ones’ evolving needs are being met.

  • Career settings include adult protective service departments, assisted-living facilities, faith-based agencies, government agencies, home care agencies, nursing homes, private practice, and rehabilitation centers.
  • Essential skills include ethics; knowledge of medical conditions and procedures that affect older adults; project management; systems perspectives with families, groups, and communities; and writing.

Learn more about becoming a gerontological social worker.


Mental Health and Addictions

Social workers in this field provide both case management and direct mental health services to clients coping with substance abuse, depression, eating disorders, or other mental health problems.

As a social worker in this field, you could encounter the following responsibilities on a typical workday:

  • providing individual, family, or group therapy for specific mental health problems
  • assessing clients for mental illness and substance abuse
  • utilizing evidence-based interventions such as cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing, dialectical behavior therapy, and solution-focused therapy
  • developing and implementing treatment plans and discharge plans in both inpatient, partial hospital, and outpatient settings
  • providing case management services that ensure coordination of care
  • shaping social welfare policy by advising officials about the needs of people who experience mental illness or addiction, the impact of stigma on those who live with co-occurring mental illness and their families, and parity regarding insurance coverage for mental illness and addictive disorders-related care

Career Options

Substance Abuse Social Worker

The number of Americans struggling with substance abuse is projected to rise, and substance abuse social workers will be a key part of the support system required by this vulnerable population. Social workers who focus on substance abuse counsel clients, monitor and evaluate their treatment goals, and work with clients’ family members to ensure a holistic approach to care.

  • Career settings include college counseling centers, day treatment programs, mental health clinics, outpatient facilities, and psychiatric hospitals.
  • Essential skills include assessment and diagnosis, active listening, complex problem-solving, critical thinking, and negotiation.

Clinical Social Worker

Mental health clinicians dedicate their lives to diagnosing and treating common mental health concerns stemming from or related to addiction, violence, trauma, and other stressors. In addition to evaluating and counseling patients, clinical social workers advocate on behalf of people struggling with mental health concerns, helping them gain resources essential to their long-term quality of life.

  • Career settings include college counseling centers, day treatment programs, mental health clinics, outpatient facilities, and psychiatric hospitals.
  • Essential skills include assessment and diagnosis, active listening, critical thinking, complex problem-solving, and negotiation.

Children and Families

Social workers in this field strive to improve the social and psychological well-being of children and their families. They work primarily with social service agencies, nonprofit service providers, adoption and foster care agencies, or schools.

As a social worker who works with children and families, you may take on the following responsibilities:

  • identifying and intervening with at-risk families
  • helping parents develop stronger parenting skills
  • connecting families with food, housing, health, and financial assistance
  • arranging adoptions or finding foster homes for children unable to remain with their biological families
  • helping students and schools cope with challenges such as community violence, teen pregnancy, truancy, or behavioral problems
  • advising various government officials on the needs of children and families to help shape effective social welfare policies

Career Options

School Social Worker

College students and children in grades pre-K through 12 need a comprehensive support system to ensure that their academic, emotional, and social needs are met within the institutional environment. School social workers work not only with students but also with administrators and families to create and execute intervention plans and create policies that are conducive to positive outcomes.

  • Career settings include college counseling centers and elementary, middle, and high schools.
  • Essential skills include assessment and intervention with individuals, families, and groups; communication, including the ability to consult with administrators, teachers, and parents; complex problem-solving; and critical thinking.

Case Manager

Individuals and families struggling to overcome personal and societal challenges often benefit from a team of people helping them achieve their goals. In collaboration with other professionals, case managers assess their clients’ needs, design and oversee plans for success, and advocate for the resources their clients need to maintain their long-term quality of life. 

  • Career settings include adoption and foster care agencies, government agencies, nonprofits, and social service agencies.
  • Essential skills include communication, compassion, organization, problem-solving, and time management.
How to Become a Social Worker

With our society facing constant threats to social justice and equality, more than 70,000 social worker jobs are expected to become available by 2026. Earning your MSW opens up hundreds of ways to serve the populations you care about most within a setting that fits your interests and skills.

SocialWork@Simmons students are already changing lives in communities across the country. Are you interested in joining this network of professionals committed to making a difference?