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Medical And Public Health Social Workers Career

Career Description

Medical and Public Health Social Workers provide persons, families, or vulnerable populations with the psychosocial support needed to cope with chronic, acute,  or terminal illnesses, such as Alzheimer’s, cancer, or AIDS. Services include advising family care givers, providing patient education and counseling, and making necessary referrals for other social services.

Common Work Tasks

  • Provide psychosocial support to people,  families, or vulnerable populations so they can cope with chronic, acute, or terminal illnesses, such as Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, or AIDS
  • Advise family caregivers, counsel patients, and help plan for patients’ needs after discharge from hospitals
  • Arrange for at-home services, such as meals-on-wheels or home care
  • Work on interdisciplinary teams that evaluate certain kinds of patients
  • Work for hospitals, nursing and personal care facilities, individual and family services agencies, or local governments
  • Collaborate with other professionals to evaluate patients’ medical or physical condition and to assess client needs
  • Investigate child abuse or neglect cases and take authorized protective action when necessary
  • Refer patient, client, or family to community resources to assist in recovery from mental or physical illness and to provide access to services such as financial assistance, legal aid, housing, job placement or education
  • Counsel clients and patients in individual and group sessions to help them overcome dependencies, recover from illness, and adjust to life
  • Organize support groups or counsel family members to assist them in understanding, dealing with, and supporting the client or patient

Other Job Titles

Medical and Public Health Social Workers are also known by other titles, including:

  • Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers
  • Child Protective Services Social Workers
  • Occupational Social Workers
  • Gerontology Social Workers

Education,  Training, and Experience

Education and Training
A bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) is the most common minimum requirement to qualify for a job as a social worker; however, majors in psychology, sociology, and related fields may qualify for some entry-level jobs, especially in small community agencies. Although a bachelor’s degree is sufficient for entry into the field, an advanced degree has become the standard for many positions. A master’s degree in social work (MSW) is typically required for positions in health settings and is required for clinical work as well. Some jobs in public and private agencies also may require an advanced degree, such as a master’s degree in social services policy or administration. Supervisory,  administrative, and staff training positions usually require an advanced degree. College and university teaching positions and most research appointments normally require a doctorate in social work (DSW or Ph.D.).

Certification and Licensure
All States and the District of Columbia have licensing, certification, or registration requirements regarding social work practice and the use of professional titles.  Although standards for licensing vary by State, a growing number of States are placing greater emphasis on communications skills, professional ethics, and sensitivity to cultural diversity issues. Most States require 2 years (3,000 hours) of supervised clinical experience for licensure of clinical social workers.

The National Association of Social Workers offers voluntary credentials. Social workers with a master’s degree in social work may be eligible for the Academy of Certified Social Workers (ACSW), the Qualified Clinical Social Worker (QCSW), or the Diplomate in Clinical Social Work (DCSW) credential, based on their professional experience. Credentials are particularly important for those in private practice; some health insurance providers require social workers to have them in order to be reimbursed for services.

Social workers should be emotionally mature, objective, and sensitive to people and their problems. They must be able to handle responsibility, work independently,  and maintain good working relationships with clients and coworkers. Volunteer or paid jobs as a social work aide can help people test their interest in this field.


The median annual salary for a Medical and Public Health Social Worker is $45,000. The top 10 percent earn more than $66,000, and the lowest 10 percent earn less than $28,000.  Median earnings in the industries employing the largest number of medical and public health social workers are:

  • General Medical and Surgical Hospitals - $51,480
  • Individual and Family Services - $39,190
  • Home Health Care Services - $49,030
  • Nursing Care Facilities - $41,800
  • Local Government - $44,390

Job Outlook

  • 2006-2016 Employment growth:  24%
  • Number of new jobs created 2006-2016: 30,000
  • Employment 2006 : 124,000
  • Employment 2016:  154,000
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