Mayo Clinic medical social worker speaking with a patient

What does a medical social worker do?

A medical social worker, sometimes referred to as a health care social worker, helps patients and their families cope with illnesses. They help patients understand their illness or condition and provide them with information about the resources available to them to cope with the emotional, financial, and social needs that arise with a diagnoses. As an advocate for the patient, a social worker assures that patients’ emotional and social needs are met through their medical treatment.

Scope of practice

Medical social workers work with doctors, nurses, physical therapists, discharge coordinators, and administrative staff to care for patients of all ages, from infants to the elderly as well as their families.

Responsibilities for the role can differ, but some common tasks and duties of a medical social worker include:

  • Reviewing new admissions for any special needs or issues that need to be addressed
  • Assisting with patient discharging from a hospital, clinic, or nursing home setting, to return home
  • Coordinating the care of patients with complex needs that require multiple services over time
  • Handling crisis that come up unexpectedly with counseling or therapy
  • Helping patients understand financial and emotional resources available to them

Work environment

Medical social workers are employed by hospitals, outpatient centers, hospice centers, rehabilitation facilities, doctors’ offices, nursing homes, and home health agencies. Depending on the environment, their schedule may differ, but typically this role works full time, which may require night, weekend, and holiday hours.

Becoming a medical social worker

Medical social work is a rewarding career that allows you to deeply connect with patients throughout their care, sometimes from diagnosis to death. It is a great role for someone that wants to have direct patient care that is not clinical in nature. Compassionate people that are good listeners, detail oriented and great at communicating may enjoy a career as a medical social worker. It is highly recommended that individuals that are interested in this career path get experience working in a hospital either in a professional or volunteer capacity to become familiar with medical terms and workflows.

Higher education requirements

Medical social workers need to complete:

  • Bachelor’s degree in social work, sociology, or psychology
  • Master’s degree in social work
  • 900 hours in a medical social work internship

The medical social worker will also need to obtain a license in the state they wish to practice in. Licensure requirements vary by state, but typically include a minimum amount of supervised work experience.

Certification process

Certification is not required; however, it may give a medical social worker an advantage over other candidates when applying for jobs.

Career opportunities and outlook

Medical social workers can expect a median salary of $55,000.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects employment of social workers, including medical social workers, to grow much faster than average. This is due to the aging baby-boom population who are more likely to rely on social workers to provide support.

With additional experience and training, a medical social worker can move into managerial roles such as a supervisor, director, or program manager.

By the numbers

Medical social worker programs at Mayo Clinic

Mayo Clinic offers several social work programs to prepare students for a career as a medical social worker, including:

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