Becoming a Medical Social Worker: Job Description & Salary Info

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A medical social worker's mean salary is $53,590. Is it worth the education and licensure requirements? Get the truth about job duties, career outlook and salary information to decide if becoming a medical social worker is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming a Medical Social Worker

A medical social worker is a clinical healthcare professional who works with patients undergoing medical treatment or suffering from serious or terminal illnesses. Here are some pros and cons that can help you decide if this occupation is right for you.

Pros of a Career in Medical Social Work
Can be rewarding*
Faster than average job growth (27% from 2012-2022)*
Many jobs only require one year of experience**
Can become licensed in as little as two years*

Cons of a Career in Medical Social Work
Can be stressful*
Salary not much higher than national average (about $54,000 vs. $47,000 nationally as of 2014)*
May travel frequently to visit patients*
May work late evenings and weekends*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **CareerBuilder Job Postings.

Essential Career Information

Job Description and Duties

As a medical social worker, would provide counseling support to patients and family members. You would also be responsible for administering treatment plans prescribed by physicians, educating patients on necessary lifestyle changes, referring patients to healthcare or support group establishments and helping physicians and caregivers understand the psychological effects of dealing with illnesses. You can provide services to the general population or work in a specialty area. Common specialties for this occupation include gerontology, palliative and hospice care.

Job Outlook and Salary

You are likely to have good job security in this profession, because the employment growth for medical social workers is expected to increase by 27% from 2012 through 2022, according to the BLS. This increase represents a faster than average growth. Medical social workers will be in high demand primarily to meet the needs of the growing elderly population. According to the BLS May 2014 wage report for medical social workers, the average salaries for the top five industries with the highest employment rates were as follows:

  • General Medical and Surgical Hospitals: $59,440
  • Home Health Care Services: $58,320
  • Individual and Family Services: $44,590
  • Nursing Care Facilities: $47,960
  • Outpatient Care Centers: $53,600

What Are the Requirements?

According to the BLS, a Master of Social Work (MSW) is mandatory for clinical social workers. In addition, all states require licensure for those who perform clinical functions, though some states waive the licensure requirement for those working in government agencies. To become licensed as a clinical social worker, you generally need an MSW along with either two years of experience or 3,000 hours of supervised clinical training.

The BLS also points out that you do not need a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) to enroll in an MSW program. You can pursue the MSW with an undergraduate degree in almost any discipline. However, employers may require that you complete relevant courses, such as sociology, psychology and political science. In addition to these educational requirements, you should be a compassionate person who can help patients get through stressful situations and you should have have good listening, problem solving and time management skills.

Job Postings from Real Employers

Actual job postings show that some employers require a master's degree and licensure, while others accept a 4-year degree and non-licensed candidates. Most employers listed at least one year of clinical experience as a requirement. Below are several actual job postings for medical social workers that can help you understand what education and experience employers were looking during April 2012:

  • A Michigan senior home care facility seeks a licensed candidate to develop treatment plans, monitor clinical progress and assist physicians with understanding the emotional effects of illnesses. This position requires a BSW or MSW and one year of experience in home care.
  • A hospice facility in Sacramento, CA, is looking for a candidate to provide emotional support to terminally ill patients and counsel caregivers and family members on how to deal with death and grief. One year of related clinical experience, an MSW and a state license is preferred.
  • A Florida medical services company is seeking a medical social worker to counsel patients and family members referred by case managers and provide services in accordance with physician's treatment plan. Qualification requirements include a 4-year degree in a related discipline, as well as two years of supervisory healthcare experience or three years experience in case work or counseling.
  • A Springfield, MA, medical center is looking for a candidate to provide palliative care for acute hospitalized patients. This candidate is responsible for providing counseling and referral services in crisis situations. The employer requests an MSW and two years of related clinical experience. Candidates with a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) designation are preferred.

How to Stand out in the Field

Since a master's degree and licensure is usually required to work as a medical social worker, one way to make yourself stand out is to become certified. The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) offers several certifications in this field. Among them are the Diplomate in Clinical Social Work (DCSW), the Qualified Clinical Social Worker (QCSW) and the Certified Social Worker in Health Care (C-SWHC). Certifications are also available in specialties, such as alcohol, tobacco and drug use or gerontology. All of these designations require a minimum of an MSW and 2-3 years of experience.

Other Career Paths

Mental Health Counselor

If you're more interested in the emotional and mental well being of others, becoming a mental health counselor may be perfect for you. In this role, you would also help clients overcome challenges and cope with difficult situations. You may treat individuals, groups or families on issues such as anxiety, depression, divorce and relationship crisis.

All states require licensing for mental health counselors, which involves obtaining a related master's degree program, completing 2,000-4,000 hours of supervised clinical training and passing an exam, according to the BLS. The BLS reported that as of May 2011, mental health counselors earned a mean annual wage of approximately $43,000.

Health Educator

If you're more interested in making sure people live an overall healthy lifestyle and are aware of common diseases, then consider becoming a health educator. In this position, you would provide health education to individuals, groups or the general public by implementing programs, counseling families and individuals, administering health campaigns and providing referrals to health services organizations. You could work at colleges, healthcare facilities, non-profit organizations, private businesses and public health departments.

You would need a 4-year degree in health promotion or health education for entry-level positions in this field, according to the BLS; positions at government health agencies often require a master's degree. You may also need to become certified. The mean salary you can expect to earn as a health educator is around $52,000, according to the BLS.

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