Tab Format
Social Worker, Medical

ActivitiesProvide persons, families, or vulnerable populations with the psychosocial support needed to cope with chronic, acute, or terminal illnesses, such as Alzheimer's, cancer, or AIDS. Services include advising family care givers, providing patient education and counseling, and making necessary referrals for other social services.

OutlookFaster-than-average-job growth

Median Income$45,700 per year in 2008

Work Context & ConditionsFull-time social workers usually work a standard 40-hour week; however, some occasionally work evenings and weekends to meet with clients, attend community meetings, and handle emergencies.

Minimum Education RequirementsBachelor's Degree

SkillsSocial Perceptiveness, Critical Thinking, Active Listening, Writing, Service Orientation, Time Management, Active Learning, Complex Problem Solving, Judgment and Decision Making, Coordination, Reading Comprehension, Speaking

AbilitiesOral Expression, Deductive Reasoning, Problem Sensitivity, Speech Clarity, Inductive Reasoning, Oral Comprehension

InterviewsTina Levin

Job Description
Job CategoryCommunity & Social Services

Job DescriptionMedical and public health social workers provide persons, families, or vulnerable populations with the psychosocial support needed to cope with chronic, acute, or terminal illnesses, such as Alzheimer's disease, cancer, or AIDS. They also advise family caregivers, counsel patients, and help plan for patients’ needs after discharge by arranging for at-home services, from meals-on-wheels to oxygen equipment. Some work on interdisciplinary teams that evaluate certain kinds of patients—geriatric or organ transplant patients, for example. Medical and public health social workers may work for hospitals, nursing and personal care facilities, individual and family services agencies, or local governments.

Working ConditionsFull-time social workers usually work a standard 40-hour week; however, some occasionally work evenings and weekends to meet with clients, attend community meetings, and handle emergencies. Some, particularly in voluntary nonprofit agencies, work part-time.

Social workers usually spend most of their time in an office or residential facility, but also may travel locally to visit clients, meet with service providers, or attend meetings. Some may use one of several offices within a local area in which to meet with clients. The work, while satisfying, can be emotionally draining. Understaffing and large caseloads add to the pressure in some agencies. To tend to patient care or client needs, many hospitals and long-term care facilities are employing social workers on teams with a broad mix of occupations, including clinical specialists, registered nurses, and health aides.

Salary Range Median annual earnings of medical and public health social workers were $45,700 in 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $35,500 and $57,700. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $28,100, and the top 10 percent earned more than $69,100.

Median annual earnings in the industries employing the largest numbers of medical and public health social workers in May 2008 were: hospitals ($51,470), home health care services ($46,930), local government, except education and hospitals ($44,140), nursing and personal care facilities ($41,080), and individual and family services ($38,370).

Education RequiredA bachelor's degree in social work (BSW) degree is the most common minimum requirement to qualify for a job as a social worker; however, majors in psychology, sociology, and related fields may be sufficient to qualify for some entry-level jobs, especially in small community agencies. Although a bachelor's degree is required for entry into the field, an advanced degree has become the standard for many positions. A master's degree in social work (MSW) is necessary for positions in health and mental health settings and typically is required for certification for clinical work. Jobs in public agencies also may require an advanced degree, such as a master's degree in social service policy or administration. Supervisory, administrative, and staff training positions usually require an advanced degree. College and university teaching positions and most research appointments normally require a doctorate in social work (DSW or PhD).

As of 2009, the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) accredited 468 BSW programs and 196 MSW programs. The Group for the Advancement of Doctoral Education (GADE) listed 74 doctoral programs in social work (DSW or Ph.D.). BSW programs prepare graduates for direct service positions, such as caseworker, and include courses in social work values and ethics, dealing with a culturally diverse clientele, at-risk populations, promotion of social and economic justice, human behavior and the social environment, social welfare policy and services, social work practice, social research methods, and field education. Accredited BSW programs require a minimum of 400 hours of supervised field experience.

Master's degree programs prepare graduates for work in their chosen field of concentration and continue to develop their skills to perform clinical assessments, manage large caseloads, and explore new ways of drawing upon social services to meet the needs of clients. Master's programs last 2 years and include 900 hours of supervised field instruction, or internship. A part-time program may take 4 years. Entry into a master's program does not require a bachelor's in social work, but courses in psychology, biology, sociology, economics, political science, history, social anthropology, urban studies, and social work are recommended. In addition, a second language can be very helpful. Most master's programs offer advanced standing for those with a bachelor's degree from an accredited social work program.

Advancement to supervisor, program manager, assistant director, or executive director of a social service agency or department is possible, but usually requires an advanced degree and related work experience. Other career options for social workers include teaching, research, and consulting. Some also help formulate government policies by analyzing and advocating policy positions in government agencies, in research institutions, and on legislators' staffs.

Some social workers go into private practice. Most private practitioners are clinical social workers who provide psychotherapy, usually paid through health insurance. Private practitioners usually have at least a master's degree and a period of supervised work experience. A network of contacts for referrals also is essential.

Many private practitioners split their time between working for an agency or hospital and working in their private practice. They may continue to hold a position at a hospital or agency in order to receive health and life insurance.

Recommended High School CoursesEnglish, Sociology and Anthropology

Postsecondary Instructional ProgramsEducation and Training, English Language, Psychology, Sociology and Anthropology, Therapy and Counseling, Customer and Personal Service

Certification and LicensingAll States and the District of Columbia have licensing, certification, or registration requirements regarding social work practice and the use of professional titles. Although standards for licensing vary by State, a growing number of States are placing greater emphasis on communications skills, professional ethics, and sensitivity to cultural diversity issues. Most States require two years (3,000 hours) of supervised clinical experience for licensure of clinical social workers. In addition, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) offers voluntary credentials. Social workers with an MSW may be eligible for the Academy of Certified Social Workers (ACSW), the Qualified Clinical Social Worker (QCSW), or the Diplomate in Clinical Social Work (DCSW) credential, based on their professional experience. Credentials are particularly important for those in private practice; some health insurance providers require social workers to have them in order to be reimbursed for services.

Skills, Abilities, & Interests
Interest Area
SocialInvolves working and communicating with, helping, and teaching people.

Work Values
AchievementGet a feeling of accomplishment.
Social ServiceDo things for other people.
SecurityHave steady employment.
Ability UtilizationMake use of individual abilities.
ActivityBusy all the time.
AutonomyPlan work with little supervision.
ResponsibilityMake decisions on your own.

Social PerceptivenessBe aware of others' reactions and understand why they react the way they do.
Critical ThinkingUse logic and analysis to identify the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches.
Active ListeningListen to what other people are saying and ask questions as appropriate.
WritingCommunicate effectively with others in writing as indicated by the needs of the audience.
Service OrientationActively look for ways to help people.
Time ManagementManage one's own time and the time of others.
Active LearningWork with new material or information to grasp its implications.
Complex Problem SolvingSolving novel, ill-defined problems in complex, real-world settings.
Judgment and Decision MakingBe able to weigh the relative costs and benefits of a potential action.
CoordinationAdjust actions in relation to others' actions.
Reading ComprehensionUnderstand written sentences and paragraphs in work-related documents.
SpeakingTalk to others to effectively convey information.

Oral ExpressionAble to convey information and ideas through speech in ways that others will understand.
Deductive ReasoningAble to apply general rules to specific problems to come up with logical answers, including deciding whether an answer makes sense.
Problem SensitivityAble to tell when something is wrong or likely to go wrong. This doesn't involve solving the problem, just recognizing that there is a problem.
Speech ClarityAble to speak clearly so listeners understand.
Inductive ReasoningAble to combine separate pieces of information, or specific answers to problems, to form general rules or conclusions. This includes coming up with a logical explanation for why seemingly unrelated events occur together.
Oral ComprehensionAble to listen to and understand information and ideas presented through spoken words and sentences.

More Information
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Job OutlookCompetition for social worker jobs is expected in cities, where demand for services often is highest and training programs for social workers are prevalent. However, opportunities should be good in rural areas, which often find it difficult to attract and retain qualified staff. By specialty, job prospects may be best for those social workers with a background in gerontology and substance abuse treatment.

Employment of social workers is expected to increase faster than the average for all occupations through 2018. The rapidly growing elderly population and the aging baby boom generation will create greater demand for health and social services, resulting in particularly rapid job growth among gerontology social workers. Many job openings also will stem from the need to replace social workers who leave the occupation.

As hospitals continue to limit the length of patient stays, the demand for social workers in hospitals will grow more slowly than in other areas. Because hospitals are releasing patients earlier than in the past, social worker employment in home health care services is growing. However, the expanding senior population is an even larger factor. Employment opportunities for social workers with backgrounds in gerontology should be good in the growing numbers of assisted-living and senior-living communities. The expanding senior population also will spur demand for social workers in nursing homes, long-term care facilities, and hospices.

Social workers held about 642,000 jobs in 2008. About 9 out of 10 jobs were in health care and social assistance industries, as well as State and local government agencies, primarily in departments of health and human services. Although most social workers are employed in cities or suburbs, some work in rural areas. Medical and public health social workers numbered 138,000.

More InformationAssociation of Social Work Boards, Council on Social Work Education, National Association of Social Workers

ReferencesBureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition, Social Workers, on the Internet at

O*NET OnLine, on the Internet at