How Do I Become a Medical Social Worker?

A medical social worker guides patients through the most difficult times of their lives. By providing emotional support and assistance navigating the medical system, these helping professionals fill a key role in modern healthcare and allow clients to focus their energies on recovery. You need at least a bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) to enter this field, but you’ll have greater opportunities with a master’s of social work, relevant coursework on your transcript and focused practicum experiences.

Related Resource: Top 10 Best Online Social Work Degree Programs

What Do Medical Social Workers Do?

Hospitals are overwhelming institutions, especially for patients from disadvantaged backgrounds. Social workers are friends, advocates and human service professionals for hospital patients. You might sit by a lonely patient’s bed, holding their hand and keeping them invested in healing, or you could work beside nurses and doctors to create an appropriate treatment plan that patient. You could be the team member pointing out that the patient is illiterate and can’t follow medical discharge paperwork without extra coaching or reminding the staff physician that the patient’s belief system doesn’t allow blood transfusions. Finally, you’ll help nurse case managers discharge patients back to their normal lives, making sure they have appropriate transportation, food and access to prescribed medications.

Do I Need a License for Hospital Social Work?

Some social work specialties require state licensure. If you want to provide mental health counseling, work with drug and alcohol addicts or bill insurance companies under your own name, you need to become a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). Some hospital positions prefer social workers with this credential, but many do not. Large medical systems are more likely to have specialized job openings that let you concentrate on your preferred areas; if you plan to work at a small, isolated hospital, you may have diverse job duties, some of which require a state-recognized license. Many entry-level positions will hire you without a license and provide the supervision and specialized education you need to become a LCSW.

How Can I Find a Paid Medical Practicum for My Bachelor of Social Work?

Before you graduate with a BSW or MSW in medical social work, you’ll have to complete a practicum. Similar to an internship but typically requiring more hours and more direct supervision, practicums provide hands-on training and a chance to experience working conditions before committing to a full-time social work job. You’re often expected to work 20 hours per week over the course of a semester, making your practicum a substantial time commitment. Finding a paid experience is imperative if you want to avoid taking out additional student loans. Luckily, hospital-based positions are more likely to pay you for your work than their non-profit counterparts. Start looking for a placement early, be flexible about where you’re willing to work and consider assisted care facilities. Although they’re not as glamorous as hospital-based positions, practicums in senior living spaces provide the same skill sets, better hours and are less competitive.

As medical technology advances and the baby boomer generation retires, you can combine your passion for helping others with the career stability of healthcare. Patients, hospitals and medical teams need your assistance as a perceptive, compassionate medical social worker.