To learn more about this versatile, demanding, and rewarding career, I consulted with a fellow Guide at About.com, Elizabeth R. Rose, MSW.
What are Some of the Roles and Jobs Available in Medical Social Work?
- Discharge Planning
- Crisis Intervention
- Mental Health Evaluation
- Chemical Dependency Evaluation
- Short term decision making counseling
- Facilitating support groups (ex. Cancer Support Group, Rehab Family Group)
- Ethical decision-making counseling
- Grief Counseling
- Specialty evaluations and coordination such as on a Renal Transplant Team
- Child Abuse investigations and reporting
Typically medical social workers are scheduled 24/7 and, if not, there is an on-call arrangement so that a social worker can be reached at all times, in case of emergency or crisis.
A typical day in a hospital may begin with a review of new admissions to the facility, current referrals and unresolved case issues from the previous day. The day will often continue with rounds on the various nursing units to collaborate with the physicians and nurses in planning for the patient.
One of the big roles of the social worker is crisis intervention, so the social worker's day never goes as expected. There may be a death on one unit, where the family needs grief counseling, a suspected child abuse case on another unit, where an evaluation needs to be made to assist the team in reporting to Child Protective Services.
The medical social worker's day may end with finishing charting and wrapping up documentation, such as statistics paperwork or data entry and, in an ideal situation, debriefing with colleagues.
I thoroughly enjoyed being part of the medical team and providing a service that was needed and appreciated. Often the social worker is the only one who sees things from a systems perspective and can remove barriers that seem to be immobile. I also appreciated the opportunity to be trained in Medical Ethics and to provide ethics consultations in very difficult situations.
Juggling an ever-increasing caseload and having to take a pager home on weekends was difficult. I believe strongly in worklife-homelife balance and when you are working in a 24 hour, crisis-oriented environment, this is difficult to maintain.
Most hospitals and healthcare facilities require that the social worker have a master's degree in social work from a CSWE accredited program. Occasionally a facility will hire a BSW (Bachelor of Social Work) to do discharge planning under the supervision of a MSW (Master's of Social Work). Many facilities require that their Master's level social workers be working toward licensure.
In addition to normal social work training it is helpful to have:
- Knowledge of medical terminology
- Understanding of the roles of the healthcare team
- Understanding of the psychosocial aspects of illness and health
- Knowledge of community facilities and resources for discharge planning
- Crisis intervention skills
- Short-term counseling skill
- Knowledge of the care planning and discharge planning processes
What Advice Would You Give to Those Seeking a Career as a Medical Social Worker?
I always advise prospective social workers to make sure they have dealt with their own issues and fears before trying to help others. They also need to have a strong family, colleague or friend circle of support. It's not easy to lose a young cancer patient you have been counseling for a year, for example, and not have someone to talk to about that experience.
Medical social work is a stressful role, in general, and the social worker is often expected to be the glue that keeps the discharge plan together (and, often the healthcare team.) That's a big expectation and a role only for the most "together" and mature practitioners.