Duties and responsibilities
Healthcare social workers provide individuals, families and groups with the support they need to cope with chronic, acute or terminal illness. Typical services include advising family care givers, providing patient education and counselling and making referrals for other services. The typical duties of a healthcare social worker include:
- Collaborating with other healthcare professionals to evaluate a patients medical or physical condition and to assess client needs
- Referring patients, or their families, to the relevant community resources that can help them will all sorts of things (e.g., legal aid, housing, financial assistance)
- Counselling patients in individual or group therapy sessions to help them overcome dependencies, recover from their illness or accept their illness
- Investigating child abuse or neglect cases and take authorized protection action when necessary
- Monitoring, evaluating and recording client progress. Treatment plans may have to be modified to comply with the outcomes of these progress assessments
- Organizing support groups or counselling family members to assist them in understanding, dealing with and supporting the patient
To become a healthcare social worker, you will need a bachelor’s degree in social work or, preferably, a bachelor’s degree in psychology or sociology. Although not a requirement, having a masters degree in social work is beneficial as it provides you with additional knowledge and skills to work in a healthcare setting.
Most states require social workers to have licensing. However, this varies significantly state by state. The Association of Social Work Boards can provide all the information for licensing in your state.
Skills and relevant work experience
As well as the educational requirements healthcare social workers will also need skills such as:
- Decision making in order to make accurate decisions regarding treatment plans. Healthcare social workers will also need to be able to think critically about these decisions in order to ensure they find the best solution to any problems
- Empathy as many of the patients, and the families of the patients, that healthcare social workers will work with are experiencing very difficult times, so it is key to be able to understand and relate to their feelings
- Active listening as healthcare social workers need to give their full attention to their patients in order to build relationships based on trust and respect
- Communication, both written and verbal, as social workers will need to clearly communicate their ideas with other social workers, healthcare professionals and the patient
- Social perceptiveness and open-mindedness as healthcare social workers will have to work with lots of different people from different religions, cultures and backgrounds
Healthcare social workers normally work normal full-time hours (8am to 5pm Monday to Friday). However, some healthcare workers may have to work weekends, evenings and be on call. Additional hours may also be required if working towards a deadline (e.g., referral deadline or a court hearing) or if there is a higher workload.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for a healthcare social worker in 2018 was $56,200, with the bottom 10% earning less that $34,210 per annum and the top 10% earning more than $84,870 per annum.
The employment of healthcare social workers is projected to grow 17 percent from 2018 to 2028, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. This employment growth is due to a continuing growth of healthcare spending and because healthcare social workers being needed to support the aging population and to support patients, and their families, who are experiencing all sorts of illnesses.
As a healthcare social worker, you can progress into more senior roles, such as social worker manager or director. with the right experience and attitude.