Medical Social Worker

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects social work jobs will grow 16% by 2026. Social work is a diverse profession that can lead to a variety of careers, and medical social work is among the popular options.

While the median income for all social workers is about $47,980 annually, the average medical social worker salary is $54,870. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Medical social workers act as liaisons between healthcare teams, patients, and insurance companies. They work within hospitals, inpatient facilities, rehabilitation centers, and physician offices to connect patients with the resources they need to recover. This meaningful career pays more than average social work positions. While the median income for all social workers is about $47,980 annually, the average medical social worker salary is $54,870.

Medical social worker degree programs train students to understand social and healthcare systems to help patients navigate them during times of crisis. The people that these professionals work with are often facing significant challenges, like terminal illness, surgery recovery, physical therapy, or transitioning out of an extended hospital stay.

Some medical social workers specialize in helping specific populations. For example, some professionals work exclusively with ill children and their families to connect them with proper resources. Others may concentrate on patients without insurance, patients entering end-of-life care, or new parents. Because these professionals work with vulnerable populations, it's essential for medical social workers to possess empathy and kindness for the patients they serve. These professionals also develop a foundational understanding of medical terms and processes, which allows them to educate patients and their families.

Education Needed to Become a Medical Social Worker

An emerging medical social worker can have a general social work graduate degree, but a concentration in healthcare makes candidates more competitive with employers.

Each state has different requirements for how to become a medical social worker. However, most jurisdictions require social workers to have a master's degree before working independently with patients. An emerging medical social worker can have a general social work graduate degree, but a concentration in healthcare makes candidates more competitive with employers. Graduates nationwide earn licensure through the Association of Social Work Boards. However, states vary in how many internship hours are required before a professional can take the licensing exam. Candidates typically must work under supervision 2-4 years, depending on where they live.

Students with bachelor's degrees in social work can still work in hospitals on their way to earning a master's degree. Many states allow professionals to work as case managers, assistants, and community health workers without licenses. Furthermore, some states have undergraduate-level licenses for social workers. These professionals cannot diagnose or treat disorders, but they can help patients find appropriate resources. Learners often work in these positions throughout graduate school, which helps them network and land jobs upon graduation.

Bachelor's Degree
Although many states do not have licenses for this level, students gain the knowledge and skills to work in entry-level medical social work positions. This medical social work degree provides the educational foundation to pursue a master's degree. Students can choose from general social work programs or specialized tracks in healthcare.
Master's Degree
In most states, a master's degree allows professionals to pursue social work licensure. Online students living in different states from their school should pay special attention to their jurisdiction's licensing requirements. While some of these programs provide terminal degrees, others set degree candidates up for doctoral programs. Coursework may cover research methods, theories of social work practice, and current topics in medical social work.
Doctoral Degree
Doctoral degrees prepare students to become leading experts in social work. Courses often include quantitative research methods, global trends in medical social work, and dissertation requirements. Graduates can become professors in academia or program administrators in government agencies and hospitals.

Accreditation for Medical Social Work Programs

An important aspect to consider while researching schools is programmatic accreditation. The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) awards this credential to social work programs with rigorous academic standards and curricula. It is vital that students attend CSWE-accredited programs because state boards only recognize degrees from such programs when considering licensing applications. Furthermore, the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) only allows graduates from accredited programs to take licensing exams.

Licensure and Practicum Requirements to Become a Medical Social Worker

Degree candidates in medical social worker education often complete internships and practicums, especially at the graduate level. This experience fulfills each school's requirements for graduation and usually coincides with the state's licensing demands. In these internships and practicums, students work under a licensed medical social worker. They may conduct work independently, then meet with supervisors to create patient plans. The experiences that these opportunities provide ensure that newly licensed medical social workers are equipped to help patients.

After learners complete their practicums and internships, they can take the ASWB licensing exams aligned with their education level and state requirements. Some jurisdictions recognize the Licensed Bachelor of Social Work credential, which is for undergraduate-level professionals. However, most licensed medical social workers earn one of the following licenses: Licensed Master of Social Work, Licensed Master Social Worker-Advanced Generalist, or Licensed Clinical Social Worker. The license that a professional should pursue depends on their career goals and state requirements. Jurisdictions may recognize one, two, or all of these licenses. Each graduate-level license requires a different amount of supervised work.

Before pursuing medical social work, students should thoroughly research their state's requirements. This is especially important for online students who study at universities outside their state. After earning licensure, social workers are only permitted to work in the state that provided certification. However, some governments have reciprocal programs that allow professionals to transfer licenses. Social workers must attend continuing education courses to maintain licensure. The number of required continuing education credits per year varies between states. Professionals must earn these credits from approved sources. They may need to get some credits in specific areas, like ethics and law, every renewal cycle.

Medical social workers in hospitals typically have the most varied schedules while other settings may offer regular office hours.

Although healthcare is a specialty within social work, medical social workers enjoy varied career paths and can become experts in specific niches. Social workers can work anywhere that provides medical care. Some social workers work in mental health facilities and substance abuse treatment centers. These professionals often specialize in an area of treatment and work with the patients, their families, counselors, and psychiatrists to find appropriate options for each patient. Other social workers find work in nursing homes where they specialize in end-of-life care and senior citizen issues. These professionals become experts in social security, Medicare, and wills.

Medical social workers also find employment in surgery centers helping patients find postoperative care, including physical and occupational therapy. Additionally, professionals work in doctors' offices as liaisons between insurance companies, doctors, and patients. Finally, many medical social workers specialize in a particular area of a hospital. For example, graduates can work exclusively in pediatric, trauma, emergency, or postpartum units. Medical social workers in hospitals typically have the most varied schedules while other settings may offer regular office hours. However, many hospitals make up for irregular hours with higher pay.

Average Salary by Experience for School Social Workers
Entry Level (0-5 Years) $45,000
Mid-Level (5-10 Years) $50,000
Experienced (10-20 Years) $53,000
Late (20+ Years) $62,000

How to Find a Job as a Licensed Social Worker

Students should take steps to make themselves marketable while in school. Degree candidates pursuing medical social work positions should find programs that offer career-oriented concentrations. Healthcare social workers make up about 20% of the available positions in social work and mental health comprises 19%, giving medical social work graduates ample employment opportunities. Volunteer and work experience also bolster a resume.

To improve employment prospects, learners can join professional organizations like the National Association for Social Workers, the Society for Social Work Leadership in Health Care, and the Association of Oncology Social Work. These organizations host exclusive job boards, annual conferences, and local meetings to help members secure employment.

Healthcare Social Workers by Industry
Industry Employment Annual Mean Wage
Home Health Care Services 20,540 $59,970
Outpatient Care Centers 11,360 $57,730
Individual and Family Services 22,690 $50,630
Psychiatric and Substance Abuse Hospitals 2,350 $56,090
Specialty (except Psychiatric and Substance Abuse) Hospitals 2,510 $60,360
  • The New Social Worker This online magazine provides insights into what it is like to be a social worker, ethical considerations, and how social workers can practice self-care.
  • The Journal of Social Work Students and practicing medical social workers benefit from reading the latest research in this journal. Staying up-to-date on research ensures the use of best practices throughout a career.
  • Social Work Today This magazine offers the latest news on the social work profession, including medical social work, such as laws that students and professionals should know.
  • The Association of Pediatric Oncology Social Workers Students aiming to work with children in the medical system can use this organization to network and start their careers. The association also offers continuing education courses and a robust support system.
  • The Latino Social Workers Organization Social workers and students with Latino/a heritage can join this organization to network with peers at the annual conference, access exclusive resources, and take continuing education courses.