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Degrees and Schools
Health social workers need to have a bachelor's degree, or more commonly, a master's degree in social work. Some positions will require that candidates have completed their field practicum/internship in a relevant health-care setting. A joint master's program in social work and public health is becoming a popular option for students pursuing a career in health social work. While the social work curriculum teaches hands-on skills for helping individual patients, the public health curriculum provides a broader perspective on social issues that affect the health of a population.
The following are examples of courses that social work students may take including courses that pertain directly to a career in health social work:
- human behavior
- social welfare programs and policy
- communications skills
- depression: concepts and clinical perspectives
- grief, loss and bereavement
- contemporary aging
- clinical practice in illness and healthcare
Online Classes and Programs
There are numerous online, accredited social work programs available at the bachelor's, master's and doctoral levels. These programs are ideal for students who don't live near a school that has a social work program or who will be working while attending school. While a great option for many, students do need to make sure that the program they attend meets the requirements for social work licensing in the state where they plan to work. Since each state has different requirements, not every online program will meet each state's specific conditions, since they are serving students across the country.
The other difference between online programs and traditional programs is that a traditional school will typically play some role in securing field placements for their students whereas online schools often place the burden on the student to find an appropriate placement.
Health social work positions typically require applicants have a social work license, certification or registration from the state where the position is located. Social work licenses vary in their names and education requirements so students should research employment and licensing requirements in the state they plan to work in before selecting a social work program. Some entry-level health social work positions will require that candidates that have completed their field practicum in a setting similar to where the position is. Fluency in a foreign language is also a requirement for some positions.
How to Evaluate Schools and Programs
The following questions should be asked by prospective students choosing a social work program:
- Field Practice - Are there a range of field placements are available? Who is responsible for securing a placement?
- Concentration - Is there an option to concentrate in health-related social work? If not, are there electives that focus on medical and public health social work?
- Double-major option - Does the school offer a double-major of social work and public health?
- Accreditation - Is the school accredited by accrediting agencies required by state licensing regulations? Is the program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)?
- Licensing - If licensing is required for employment, does the program fulfill the requirements defined by the applicable state licensing board? If not, are the missing courses offered at the school or other convenient location?
Health Social Workers Job Description
Health social workers, also known as medical and public health social workers, want to improve the lives of others who are dealing with illness, whether it be an acute disease such as a heart attack, a chronic illness such as diabetes or AIDS or a terminal illness such as cancer. Their role is to ensure the patient is well-cared for during, and especially after, leaving a health facility. They make sure all the patient's needs are taken care of including housing, food, transportation, personal care and medical care. They also work with caregivers to ensure they have the support they need. Some social workers exclusively work with senior citizens who may have ongoing support needs related to aging. Health social workers may work for hospitals, home health care agencies, nursing care facilities, hospice organizations and elder-care agencies.
In the Words of a Medical Social Worker:
What It Means to do My Job
Career tips, salaries, and lists of schools.
A medical social worker discusses the role of those in her profession, balancing her work and family life, flexibility of where she can work, licensing, what she finds most enjoyable about her job, and salaries. She also offers advice for those considering becoming a medical social worker. The worker is employed at at Odyssey Health Care in South Carolina.
Below are some examples of roles that a health social worker may fill:
- hospital inpatient social worker
- hospital discharge social worker
- hospice social worker
- visiting social worker for at-home clients
- assisted-living social worker
The types of responsibilities a health social worker may have include:
- assessing patients' needs
- arranging services such transportation, food, home care and medical care
- counseling patients and families
- advising and arranging support for caregivers
- organizing and facilitating support groups
- monitoring patients' ongoing needs
National Association of Social Workers - The NASW promotes the development of the social work profession through information dissemination, research, and social policy advocacy.
American Public Health Association - The APHA aims to promote, protect and advocate for public health through its publications, policy formulation, advocacy, and continuing education programs for public health workers.
Public Health Foundation - This non-profit organization helps health agencies and organizations by conducting research, providing training and disseminating research data to help improve the health of their communities.
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