How to Become a Medical Social Worker

Working as a medical social worker can be highly rewarding. Also known as healthcare social workers, these professionals work with patients and their families in hospitals, outpatient clinics, long-term care facilities, and other health organizations. There are educational and licensing requirements to become a medical social worker. Below are guidelines for how to become a medical social worker.

Medical Social Worker Degree and Education Requirements

While there is not a specific medical social worker degree, to enter the field there are some medical social worker education requirements you may need to complete. 

While it is possible to become a social worker with only a bachelor’s degree, clinical social workers, including medical social workers, are required to hold a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree.

An MSW provides more specialized knowledge of social work than a bachelor’s degree. It also offers graduates the opportunity to specialize in a specific area, such as behavioral health, healthcare policy, or systems of providing healthcare services.

Completing a social work bachelor’s or master’s degree online enables you to advance your education while working. This could allow you to gain experience and progress in your career while pursuing additional academic qualifications.

Earning an MSW degree from Baylor University’s MSW online program does not result in the outcome of obtaining a degree in medical social work. An MSW can help an individual work toward a career as a medical social worker, but individuals will need to fulfill other educational and licensing requirements outside of the program, which can vary by state. Common requirements have been outlined below.

Obtain a Bachelor’s Degree

The first education requirement to become a medical social worker is to earn a bachelor’s degree. Most entry-level social work positions require a bachelor’s degree in social work or a related field, such as

  • psychology,
  • social science or public policy, or
  • social services. 

A bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) teaches you about human behavior and diversity in populations. These programs can also educate you on social welfare policy and the ethics that need to be observed when working as a social worker. 

Earn Your Master’s in Social Work Degree

The next step in becoming a medical social worker involves completing a master’s in social work program. In most cases, an MSW will take two years to complete. These programs guide you in expanding your assessment and management skills. You will also be required to complete a supervised internship or practicum to graduate.

You do not need to hold a bachelor’s degree in social work to be admitted to an MSW program. Graduates with bachelor’s degrees in related fields like sociology, economics, political science, or psychology often enroll in MSW programs, as these degrees provide a helpful foundation for a master’s in social work.

Candidates with a BSW may be eligible for acceptance into an advanced standing MSW program. These programs generally require fewer credits and less time to complete than traditional MSW programs. In some cases, like the Advanced Standing MSW Online at Baylor, an advanced standing MSW can be completed in one year.

Gain Field Experience

The Council on Social Work Education requires BSW programs to provide a minimum of 400 hours of fieldwork, while MSW programs require 900 hours of fieldwork.

Social work field experience (also sometimes called a practicum or an internship) aims to provide practical work experience and the opportunity to handle situations social workers may face on the job.

Students usually shadow and observe a qualified social worker during a practicum, and may take on some responsibilities under the supervision of a trained social worker.

Become a Licensed Social Worker and Maintain Licensure

To practice as a medical social worker, you need to be licensed. Most states require licensure or certification for nonclinical social workers as well. Licensure requirements differ by state. You should apply for licensure in the state in which you want to practice.

In most states, candidates for licensure will need to

  • complete a social work degree,
  • apply for licensure, and
  • pass a social work licensing exam.

Generally, you must complete at least two years of supervised clinical experience after receiving a master’s degree in social work.

The social work licensing exam is administered by the Association of Social Work Boards. The association also provides information relating to continuing competence, often required to maintain licensure to practice as a social worker.

What Does a Medical Social Worker Do?

Now that you know how to become a medical social worker, you may be wondering: What does a medical social worker do? 

This type of social worker primarily works in a healthcare setting in clinical or support roles. 

Mostly, they work in hospitals, but medical social workers may also work in outpatient clinics, long-term care facilities, hospices, or community health agencies.

Medical social workers assist individuals who have been diagnosed with a medical condition. 

These social workers can help patients change their lifestyle or living environment or manage their healthcare more effectively. Medical social workers can also provide information that might be relevant to their patients, like accessing home healthcare or support groups to manage their medical condition.

Some medical social workers may specialize in hospice and palliative care or geriatric social work. Others may specialize in fields like pediatrics, oncology, or emergency and trauma.

Role of a Medical Social Worker

Generally, a medical social worker looks after the social and emotional welfare of a patient. They work closely with the patient’s medical team, family, and the patient themselves. 

The role of medical social workers is to be supportive, informative, and ensure that all relevant healthcare providers are aware of the unique social and emotional impacts a patient’s illness has on their life. 

In many cases, a social worker may provide counseling to a patient or their family members. Social workers are the primary advocates for individuals who are receiving medical care.

Duties and Responsibilities

Medical social worker duties and responsibilities can vary broadly and depend on the health facility and department in which a medical social worker is employed. A medical social worker conducts initial screenings and evaluations of the patient and their family in most cases. They may also conduct a psychosocial assessment of the patient.

The medical social worker can support patients and their families and assist them in understanding a diagnosis and treatment options. They may also address the consequences of treatments and the refusal of treatment.

A medical social worker can be seen as the central point of contact when an individual receives a diagnosis, is admitted to a hospital, or needs to manage a long-term health condition. These social workers can assist patients requiring in-home care. The medical social worker can make the necessary arrangements in this situation. 

Medical Social Worker Salary and Jobs

In May 2020, the median annual medical social worker salary was $57,630, meaning half earned more and half earned less, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). 

Medical social workers earned more in 2020 than their colleagues who worked in mental health settings or practiced as child, family, and school social workers.

Medical social workers are often placed in specialized environments or medical units in a hospital, such as

  • pediatrics,
  • oncology,
  • transplant,
  • nephrology, and
  • emergency and trauma departments.

They could also work in leadership roles in a hospital, clinic, or other medical facility. Medical social workers might also fill managerial or administrative roles relating to specific medical programs that could focus on community outreach, aging, or mental health.

It is projected that job demand in the medical social work field will grow by 13 percent between 2020 and 2030. This is especially true for medical social worker jobs that involve supporting elderly individuals and their families.

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Baylor University has educated aspiring social workers for more than 50 years. Graduates of the MSW program are prepared to pursue licensure and become social work leaders.

Learn more about Baylor’s MSW online program

Citation for this content: Baylor University’s online master’s in social work program.