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What is a Healthcare Social Worker?

A Healthcare Social Worker is a specialized type of Social Worker. Also known as: Clinical Social Worker, Medical Social Worker.

Healthcare social work is a specialty within the social work field. A healthcare social worker is someone who helps people access services and education related to health problems. Their goal is to have the client achieve and maintain a state of optimal health so they can function in their daily lives. The social worker acts as a client advocate, educator, advisor, coordinator of care, and strives to preserve the healthcare and dignity of the population they serve.

What does a Healthcare Social Worker do?

Healthcare social workers help patients navigate the world of healthcare. These social workers can help individuals do everything from find medical care to help pay for medical care to recover from an illness or injury. This might include offering advice, acting as a patient advocate, or referring a patient to facilities or programs.

Assessing the needs of a patient is usually the first step that a healthcare social worker will take. This might involve interviewing the patient, their family, and their doctors. A thorough patient assessment will help a healthcare social worker determine what a patient’s needs are, and how these needs can be met.

Healthcare social workers coordinate services such as home health care, medical equipment rentals, transportation to follow up doctor visits, and other related activities. They help clients get admitted to inpatient and outpatient services, find funding sources, fill out paperwork, and find support resources for families. They assist with educational classes on things such as childcare, Alzheimer’s management, living with cancer, and HIV. They are concerned with all components of health and mental health care. They also participate in and advise on healthcare policy, services, and legislative issues.

A career in healthcare social work also often involves informing patients of their rights. In general, a patient’s rights typically include - but, aren’t limited to - such things as:

  • the right to be treated with respect and dignity
  • the right to make decisions regarding healthcare
  • the right to choose a doctor that can give adequate care
  • the right to ask questions and have them answered in easy to understand terms
  • the right to be free of abuse, neglect, or exploitation
  • the right to know how much medical treatment will cost before undergoing any procedures
  • the right to access one’s own medical information
  • the right to emergency medical treatment regardless of the ability to pay

Healthcare social workers typically work closely with a number of different individuals, including doctors, nurses, patients, and patients’ families. They need to have or develop certain skills, such as listening, patience, critical thinking, complex problem solving, and organization. The focus of the job is to help people who do not know where to find help.

What is the workplace of a Healthcare Social Worker like?

Although most social workers work in an office, they may spend a lot of time away from the office visiting clients. They can be employed in clinics, hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living, mental health, and other health care settings.

How can I become a Healthcare Social Worker?

The first step to becoming a healthcare social worker is to get a bachelor’s degree in Social Work (BSW).

A master’s degree (MSW) is required to specialize as a healthcare social worker. Many healthcare specialists work on their master’s degrees part-time. This allows them to earn a living while still pursuing a higher degree. Employers sometimes offer tuition assistance.

After obtaining a MSW, a healthcare social worker can begin working towards their certification in healthcare. Certification is not required, but it can help in attaining top-level positions and pay. To become certified, the candidate must have two years of experience working at a master’s degree level, have 20 hours of continuing education, and take a certification examination given by the National Association of Social Workers. This certification lets employers and clients know that the healthcare social worker has achieved the highest level of training and education in the specialty of healthcare services.


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