Medical Social Work Careers

by Ashley Miller
Medical social workers are members of multidisciplinary health care teams.

Medical social workers are members of multidisciplinary health care teams.

Medical social work is a specialization in social work that involves working with patients and their families in medical facilities, such as hospitals or clinics. In many cases, medical social workers perform a variety of roles, such as intake, discharge and counseling, but they may also specialize in one of these areas. The salary for medical social workers can vary widely by experience, education and setting. As of May 2010, health care social workers earned an average yearly salary of $47,230, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Education and Training

In most cases, medical social workers are required to have a master's degree in social work, or MSW, but some settings may accept candidates with bachelor's degrees. During the master's degree program, prospective social workers must complete two supervised field placements. Students who already know that they want to become medical social workers should choose a placement in a medical setting. Most employers require medical social workers to hold valid state licensure. The requirements for licensure vary by state but generally require a passing score on the national licensing exam and submitting proof of education and experience.


The responsibilities of a medical social worker can vary by employment setting. In some settings, especially in hospitals, medical social workers may focus on performing intakes with new patients or completing discharge plans for patients leaving the facility's care. Medical social workers may also provide emotional support to patients through formal and informal counseling, formulate treatment plans, counsel families and loved ones to help them cope with and understand the patient's condition, explain available health care and social services resources to patients and loved ones and advocate for patients with external agencies, such as insurance companies. They also perform administrative tasks, such as filling out paperwork, compiling patient charts and recording case notes.

Work Settings

Medical social workers are usually members of multidisciplinary health care teams consisting of doctors, nurses, pharmacists, psychiatrists, psychologists and other professionals. In addition to hospitals and medical clinics, they may work in settings like private medical practices, long-term health care facilities, hospices, outpatient treatment centers or substance abuse clinics. Medical social workers usually work 40 hours per week, but their hours may vary. They may work overtime if needed. Some work during regular business hours, others work on-call, in the evenings, on weekends or on holidays.


It's not always easy to be a medical social worker. They often work with patients who have terminal illnesses or with people who have severe or traumatic injuries. Medical social workers should display empathy and compassion and be able to work well with people from diverse backgrounds. Medical social workers may often need to deal with long hours on their feet, and should be able to work well in high-stress, fast-paced environments. Excellent time management skills and the ability to effectively manage stress can help prevent burnout.

About the Author

Ashley Miller is a licensed social worker, psychotherapist, certified Reiki practitioner, yoga enthusiast and aromatherapist. She has also worked as an employee assistance program counselor and a substance-abuse professional. Miller holds a Master of Social Work and has extensive training in mental health diagnosis, as well as child and adolescent psychotherapy. She also has a bachelor's degree in music.

Photo Credits

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