How to Become a Medical Social Worker: Degree & Licensure Requirements

Jan 19, 2022

Research the requirements to become a medical social worker. Learn about the job description and duties, and read the step-by-step process to start a career as a medical social worker.

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What Is a Medical Social Worker?

A medical social worker, also called a hospital social worker or a health care social worker, commonly works for hospice, home health or other managed healthcare organization. But what does a social worker do in a hospital? Providing clinical patient assessments are the core responsibilities of a medical social worker; thus, they may also be called clinical social workers. These professionals typically work with doctors and other healthcare staff to evaluate the physical and emotional health issues and social factors that play a part in a patient's treatment plan. This is generally performed by monitoring patients' health conditions, writing clinical reports, and reporting findings to patients' healthcare team.

Medical social workers also perform discharge planning, which often includes utilizing various community resources that can provide patients with financial and social assistance. Working with patients' families to advice on proper discharge care and coping techniques is also important. Medical social services workers must often travel to job sites, and may work long evening and weekend hours. This job can be quite stressful because under-staffing often leads to large caseloads.

A healthcare social worker advocates for patients

Medical Social Worker Salary and Career Overview

Degree Level Master's degree
Degree Field Social work
Experience 1 to 2 years of social work experience
Licensure Licensure required in all states
Key Skills Active listening, communication, interpersonal, problem-solving, time-management, and good judgment skills
Salary $58,712 per year (2020 median salary licensed clinical social worker)
Job Outlook (2019-2029) 13% growth

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Payscale.com, O*Net Online

You may have been wondering, how much do hospital social workers make? According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, those working as clinical social workers can expect their job field to grow by 13% between 2019 and 2029. This is much faster than the national average. Payscale.com also reported that as of December, 2020, the average hospital social worker salary was $58,712.

How to Become a Medical Social Worker

Step 1: Obtain a Medical Social Worker Bachelor's Degree

Aspiring medical social workers typically earn a Bachelor's of Social Work (BSW); this is the closest thing to a specific medical social worker degree. However, students who major in psychology or sociology may also be qualified to work in social services at an entry-level position. Undergraduate and graduate programs are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. Accredited BSW curricula can require up to 400 hours of field experience in addition to the classroom coursework.

Step 2: Gain Medical Social Worker Jobs and Experience

Graduates can choose to work as a general social worker after receiving their BSW before going on to specialize in medical social work. Prospective medical social workers may consider seeking entry-level employment at state social services agencies to gain experience in handling multiple caseloads and helping clients with finding financial or job-related assistance. They may also work at mental health or substance abuse treatment facilities to become familiar with working in clinical settings, dealing with clients who may have emotional problems, and communicating with family members on coping mechanics.

Step 3: Earn a Healthcare Social Worker Graduate Degree

While an undergraduate major in social work is not required for admittance into a Master of Science in Social Work (MS) program, most MSW programs grant advanced status for students with a BSW from an accredited institution. Graduate students can concentrate in a field, such as medical social work, advancing and applying concepts learned from undergraduate study. A MSW program is typically two years long and consist of more than 900 hours of field work or an internship in a clinical setting, where students practice as medical social workers while under supervision.

Step 4: Become Licensed in Medical Social Services

State social worker boards develop and enforce qualifications for licensure, which can vary from state to state. After earning a graduate degree, social workers need to accrue a minimum of 3,000 hours of supervised clinical experience or have at least two years of work experience to be eligible for the licensure exam administered by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB). Successful completion of this exam results in the Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) designation.

Step 5: Maintain Licensure

Continuing education requirements to maintain your licensure varies by state. Professionals may consult the ASWB to get information on the requirements for their state. Typically, states require social workers to earn continuing education credits every two years, according to the ASWB. This may be achieved through acquiring a certain number of clinical hours or completing some type of formal training or coursework in an area, such as substance abuse or domestic violence.

Medical social worker jobs can be challenging in some cases

Medical Social Worker Job Description

What does a medical social worker do on a daily basis? These professionals typically work in hospitals, clinics, outpatient facilities, nursing homes, hospices, and in-home care programs. The challenges of this job include:

  • The emotional toll of working with some end-of-life patients
  • The heavy responsibility of advocating for a patient's interests
  • Some extensive work hours in difficult times

However, the benefits of the job include:

  • The opportunity to help people in a tangible way
  • Job security as the job field is growing fast
  • A job in the medical field that does not require attending medical school
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