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What Does a Medical Social Worker Do?

A medical social worker might help with benefit paperwork regarding a sick child.
A medical social worker working with a teen.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 18 July 2014
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A medical social worker is a trained professional who typically works in a number of similar environments. These could be assisted care facilities, hospitals, convalescent homes or others. Part of the job of these social workers is to help assess individuals for discharge or to see to their needs or the needs of their family during hospitalization. They may provide a wide variety of services in this respect, not just during hospitalization, but also sometimes before and after it takes place.

There can be some differences in the level of training a medical social worker may have. Most have at least a master’s in social work (MSW) and many possess the additional title, licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), which takes several more years of training and successful performance on exams to earn. Occasionally a medical social worker has a bachelor’s degree in social work instead, but this is not that common and preference is toward hiring professionals having a much higher level of training.

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Some of the jobs the medical social worker may do depend on the type of hospital in which he or she works. For instance, some of these workers work in children’s hospitals and they may have a great deal of interaction with family members. Their work could include making certain that family is adequately supported during hospital stays, helping family members fill out any paperwork for special benefits to which a sick child may be entitled, finding a family a place to stay during lengthy hospitalization or treatment, and educating the family about any benefits that may help defer actual or emotional cost of hospitalization.

At the same time, while a child is hospitalized, the medical social worker might meet with other hospital services that could be of use. These could include child life services or nutritionist departments. In all, the goal would be to present continuity of care from beginning to end for the child, to adequately support parents and child, and to make certain that at time of discharge everyone is ready to go and has means of complying with continuing treatment recommendations.

Similar responsibilities might occur for the medical social worker in other settings. With adults who are mentally aware, the worker might have more direct contact, or alternately, the social worker could work with the family. Sometimes the medical social worker faces the challenge of having no family with which to work and must find means to help the mentally disadvantaged, who also face other severe problems. It is during these times that these professionals use all their knowledge about private and public social systems to find such a person the level of care needed after hospitalization.

Someone interested in a job in medical social work can likely expect to do significant levels of paperwork, interact with other social agencies, and regularly discuss problems or issues with many different members of medical staff. This is a job that can be frustrating at times and patients, patients’ families, doctors, and staff at other agencies could all prove difficult. Worse, is when despite best efforts, lack of resources makes it next to impossible to discharge a patient or means a patient is being discharged into circumstances that are less than ideal. The person for this type of work tends to need superior organizational skills, strong mediation skills, and a cool head to handle work volume and the tensions of the job.

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Discuss this Article

pastanaga
Post 3

@MrsPramm - Honestly, social worker jobs in any sphere are always going to be dealing with people who are scared and sad. The good thing is that sometimes you can help. The worst is that often you can't do all that much.

This can be particularly devastating in the medical field, where there is so much frustration involved with people not getting the treatment they need and deserve because their insurance doesn't cover it, or whatever. It's definitely not a job for someone who is very sensitive or who crumbles under pressure, because when you are advocating for the mental health of patients you will often find yourself without many allies.

But someone has to do it and when things do get done they can be very satisfying.

MrsPramm
Post 2

@Mor - That would be such a difficult role. I'm not sure how much a medical social worker salary is, but I'm positive they don't get enough.

Often people getting those tests have a family member who suffered from the condition they are testing for, so they know the fate that could await them. They would just be so scared and sad.

Mor
Post 1

One of the interesting medical social worker jobs now is what they call genetic counselling, which is dealing with the fallout after someone has a test and discovers that they have a gene marker for a particular condition.

It sounds bizarre, but more and more often people are choosing to get tested for things like the breast cancer gene, and then aren't sure how to feel when they discover they have it. Should they have life altering surgery or other treatments in order to prevent something which might never actually happen? It opens all kinds of ethical and emotional questions and counselors are basically trained to help guide people through these to what they want or need to do.

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