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If you love helping others and want to work in a field that relies heavily on empathy and communication, then a social worker might be at the forefront of your career considerations. Maybe you’ve even begun researching a career in social work and have discovered that there are many different types of social work for a social worker to walk. One such type is a medical social worker, also known as a healthcare social worker. Medical social workers help individuals and their families cope with illness.1

This critical role supports those suffering from chronic or terminal diseases. If you want to help others cope with the personal complications that can arise when dealing with illness, then medical social work might be the career for you. Learn more with this helpful guide.

How Do You Become a Medical Social Worker?

You don’t need to attend medical school to become a medical social worker. Because medical social work can be complex and sensitive, the path to becoming a medical social worker can be more specialized than that of a general social worker. 

Apply for an MSW Degree

So, how long does it take to become a social worker? The steps tend to be as follows:2

  • Earn a BSW – You can begin your career path by earning a Bachelor’s degree in social work or a similar field. A Bachelor’s program can help you master the basics of social work, the terminology, and the standards of practice.
  • Apply for and complete a Master of Social Work (MSW) program – After you’ve completed your undergraduate work, you’ll likely need to apply for an MSW program in order to qualify for most social work positions. What can you do with a master’s in social work? Your MSW program can provide you with more in-depth skills to tackle the job of a social worker. To learn how to get a master’s in social work, check out our blog.
  • Complete your fieldwork requirements – Depending on which state you live in, you may need to complete a certain number of fieldwork hours before you can obtain a license to practice social work. The number of hours can vary between 450 to 1,000. If your goal is to become a medical social worker, it can help to complete some of those hours in a hospital setting.
  • Obtain your license – After you’ve completed your social work education and fieldwork requirements, you can apply to sit for the licensure exam or exams in your state. Once you pass your licensing exam or exams, you’ll be able to practice as a social worker.
  • Perform supervised clinical social work – Medical social work positions often require candidates to earn a clinical license. A clinical license typically requires applicants to work for two to three years under the supervision of a licensed clinical supervisor to become a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). In many states, you may be required to be an LCSW to work in a hospital setting.
  • Maintain licensure during clinical social work – You may also need to keep up with the continuing social work education requirements necessary to maintain your license while you’re performing your supervised clinical duties.

Where to Apply for Healthcare Social Work Practice?

Healthcare social workers, with their social work degree background and specialized training, provide support to individuals coping with a medical condition in a healthcare setting. They can take on the role as a hospital social worker, a psychiatric social worker, or a mental health counselor. They offer emotional support, facilitate crisis intervention, and coordinate medical social services to ensure holistic patient care. Beyond the medical setting, they can extend their services to home care where they provide aid and emotional support to a family member with medical challenges. In essence, healthcare social work embodies a multidimensional approach with interventions aimed at enhancing the well-being of individuals and communities.

It’s important to note that each state has slightly different requirements for licensure and working as a medical social worker. In some cases, you might not need to be an LCSW to work in non-hospital settings, such as:

  • Outpatient facilities
  • Nursing homes
  • Rehabilitation facilities

We recommend that you research openings in your area to confirm the specific job requirements in your state.

What Does A Medical Social Worker Do?

Now that you know the basic path to becoming a medical social worker, let’s examine some of their specific daily duties. Medical social workers may do a wide range of tasks, including:

  • Screening patients and family members for emotional or mental health needs
  • Discussing medical treatment options with patients
  • Providing healthcare resources for patients and family members after a diagnosis
  • Explaining the roles of the healthcare team members to patients and families
  • Supplying families with other resources related to medical financing
  • Serving on committees to advocate for healthcare policies
  • Reaching out to doctors and nurses to help them better understand their patients

A healthcare social worker’s job description can essentially boil down to one imperative: be there to support patients and their families. Support can come through listening, talking, and providing resources.

What Traits Do Medical Social Workers Have?

Medical social workers typically get into the field because they possess many of the following traits:

  • A desire to help others
  • An understanding of the complexities of the healthcare system
  • A desire to improve the lives of those in need of medical care
  • An ability to impact people in meaningful ways
  • A strong sense of compassion and empathy

Along with these traits, medical social workers must be comfortable working in a hospital setting where illness and death are a part of daily life.

Start Your Social Work Career Journey with Alliant

Medical social workers perform their duties in hospitals or other medical settings. The main role of a medical social worker is to provide support for patients and families after a diagnosis of a serious illness or traumatic injury. Due to the sensitive nature of their work, medical social workers may need to earn a Master’s degree, pass licensure exams, and complete supervised clinical experience.

Now that you know how to pursue becoming a social worker and you think medical social work may be right for you, Alliant may be an excellent place to get started. We offer a fully online, 60-credit MSW degree program that can help prepare you for the challenges of a career in social work. 

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  1.  “Healthcare Social Workers.” Bureau of Labor Statistics. May, 2021. Accessed May 23, 2022.
  2.  “Licensed Social Worker Guide. ND. Accessed May 23, 2022.

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