Career Profile: Healthcare Social Workers

Healthcare social workers are responsible for providing their clients with psychosocial support so that they can better cope with illnesses. These illnesses can be chronic, acute or terminal, and the types of care vary based on each client’s situation. Healthcare social workers may work with families, groups and individuals. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), healthcare social workers provide services like “advising family care givers, providing patient education and counseling, and making referrals for other services.” In this way, job responsibilities are similar to that of other types of social workers: Increasing access to various community and health services is a key part of every social worker’s job.

Some healthcare social workers also “provide care and case management or interventions designed to promote health, prevent disease” and more, the BLS says. Also known as medical social workers, these professionals are responsible for administrative medical tasks and keeping detailed records. They may complete evaluations as part of a healthcare delivery team, ensuring that clients receive the care they need. Healthcare social workers serve as advocates for their clients as well. They ensure that clients can successfully navigate the healthcare system and may even negotiate with payers and third-party groups.

Career Growth and Salary Potential

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that healthcare social workers earn a median annual wage of $52,380. Salaries range from $32,190 to $77,880 depending on factors like experience, setting and geographic location. Hospitals employ the highest levels of healthcare social workers, while scientific research and development settings report the highest earnings. Employment outlook for healthcare social workers is strong, with a growth rate of 19 percent expected through 2024. This is much faster than the average growth for all occupations. Employment growth in the social work field is driven by factors like increased demand for social services and the aging baby boomer population.

Education Required

A Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) is required for most entry-level positions in the field, though undergraduate degrees in related fields like sociology and psychology may also be valuable. Supervised fieldwork or internships are required as part of such programs. Common careers for bachelor’s degree holders include caseworkers, mental health assistants and community outreach coordinators, according to the BLS. For higher-level roles, a Master of Social Work (MSW) is required. This degree prepares students for work as a clinical social worker. These degree programs usually require a practicum or internship in order to gain experience in the field. While a bachelor’s degree in social work isn’t required in order to pursue graduate study, studying social work as an undergraduate student is an ideal way to prepare for a master’s program. Earning a BSW provides students with core competencies and a knowledge base that is particularly valuable for further study.