What Is a Medical Social Worker?

Medical social work involves interacting with patients and families and evaluating their psychosocial functioning as well as environmental and support needs. Medical social workers then intervene as they see fit, which may involve using community resources to help patients and family (e.g. grief counseling, psychotherapy, supportive counseling). Medical social workers are responsible for psychosocial assessments, counseling, family education and crisis intervention, financial assessments, risk assessments, referral services, care coordination and discharge planning.

Medical Social Workers and the Healthcare System

In addition to helping patients find support within the community for their needs, medical social workers also serve as an expert in navigating the healthcare system. Many times, seeking assistance from a hospital may be daunting to some due to the expected expenses. Medical social workers can help individuals by serving as an advocate and helping them find the care they need; they simplify the process so it becomes a less scary experience.

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Medical social workers practice alongside nurses, patients, doctors and patients’ families. They may interview doctors and nurses to determine a patient’s needs, as well as the patient’s family. One of the most common needs is finding how to finance medical treatment; medical social workers may need to set up payment arrangements or help patients apply to assistance programs. Some assistance may be needed once a patient returns home. For instance, medical social workers may be asked to set up post-treatment resources such as home healthcare services or assisted living services.

Medical social workers often assist low-income patients who may lack health insurance or who are unemployed. While such difficult situations may impede timely care, a medical social worker’s responsibility is to properly manage, assess and find proper treatment options for the patients.

Medical Social Worker Salary

According to PayScale, medical social workers earn $50,520 per year on average. Entry-level salaries may begin at approximately $48,000 and increase to $60,000 by the time career experience has reached 20 years. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics, social workers employed by hospitals earn an average salary of $56,650. Medical social workers can find employment in state and local government, health departments, adoption agencies, family resource centers, religious organizations, assisted living centers, senior care centers, probation and parole departments and health centers.

Becoming a Medical Social Worker

Medical social workers typically hold a graduate degree, such as a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree. This education helps students learn to work with children and families, ethics, special education, behavioral disorders, addictions and advocacy, among a number of other subjects.