Addiction, abuse and poverty could beat many people into the ground without the help of a social worker. Social work can be a gratifying career that provides a great deal of personal satisfaction. Direct-service social workers, who typically have a bachelor's degree, can help people solve relatively simple problems such as signing up for food stamps, or work on much more complicated issues such as chronic homelessness due to mental illness.
The bachelor’s degree is the usual educational preparation for an entry-level position or a direct-services social worker, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. School and health care positions such as licensed clinical social workers usually require a master’s degree. Social workers may specialize in addiction and substance abuse treatment, provide family counseling or work in child welfare. Others work with adoption agencies, supervise foster care families or provide services to the elderly. School social workers provide services to children dealing with divorce, behavioral issues or family difficulties.
A social worker’s training makes her well-fitted for a career in medical case management. The complexity of the health care system makes it very difficult for people to understand what services are available, whether their insurance pays for certain services, and how to advocate for themselves. Coordinating care among different medical professionals and specialists is another task many people with chronic illness cannot perform for themselves. The case-management social worker provides all of these services and helps an individual reach his highest possible level of function even if he cannot become fully independent.
Effecting real change for the better often means the whole community must become involved. A degree in social work can prepare you to become a community organizer. A community organizer helps people improve conditions by working as a group to resolve community-wide issues. The social worker typically works with an existing organization, helps bring people into the political process and coordinates and facilitates the activities necessary to effect changes. Some social workers in this area may go on to become elected or appointed public officials, or become leaders of an advocacy organization.
Sometimes a bachelor’s degree in social work can be a springboard to a related career. Nursing, for example, shares many characteristics with social work. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing reports that accelerated nursing degree programs offer an opportunity for an individual with a bachelor’s degree in another field to become an RN. Forty-three states offered accelerated nursing degrees as of 2011, which could allow a social worker to become an RN within 11 to 18 months. Accelerated master’s degrees in nursing are also available.
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