Career Path Options for a Public Health Social Worker

The average value of the Bachelor degree needed to become a Medical and public health social workers is $928,549.00.

Social work is a broad career field that encompasses many career paths. Medical and public health care social workers provide support to people who suffer from physical and mental illnesses. These workers are also responsible for providing support to loved ones affected by these illnesses and conditions. Medical and health care social workers are often assigned a case load of clients.

Some job titles commonly found in the area or medical and health care social work are as follows:

  • Hospice care worker
  • Counselor
  • Clinical social worker
  • Caseworker
  • Psychiatric social worker

Points of Interest

Those interested in entering the field of medical or public health care social work should decide which area they would like to choose for their specialization. For example, they may choose to work as a counselor for families of those affected by AIDS or cancer. Other social workers may choose a more generalized medical social work area. They may work as intake officers in government agencies or hospitals.

In this role, the social worker is responsible for interviewing the client and deciding which possible services the client might be eligible for. For instance, a client suffering from AIDS who has just lost their job might be referred to an unemployment agency to apply for benefits. This type of client might also benefit from government health insurance.

Nature of the Work

Medical and public health care social workers help people to improve their quality of life. People may seek social work services for help when they have medical problems or issues related to health care. These patients may need assistance with any of the following: –debilitating disease –chronic illness –education and counseling –mental health problems –unemployment or under-employment –low income housing or inadequate housing –physical disabilities –physical, mental, and sexual abuse Social workers must be able to asses each individual client and develop a service plan for that client. As the client’s needs evolve and change, the social worker must modify their service plan and goals. Case workers should also record their patient’s progress and suggest solutions to problems and concerns.

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Workers must have a general knowledge of local agencies and programs that may assist their clients. They must know the location and contact information for local shelters, food assistance, and health care assistance programs.

Training, Qualifications, and Advancement

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A bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) is most often the minimum amount of education needed to enter the field of medical and public health care. Depending on the nature of the work, some employers may require a master’s degree in social work (MSW) or in a related field, such as sociology or psychology. A master’s degree is necessary for clinical practice, and most social work jobs in hospitals and non-profit agencies also require advanced degrees. At the bachelor’s degree level, BSW students learn the basics of social work practice as well as the knowledge needed to work with special populations. Bachelor’s degree candidates study human behavior and issues that are related to the populations that social workers generally serve.

For example, some workers may choose to work with children and adolescents, while others may prefer to work with the elderly. In government agencies and non-profit agencies, social workers must be prepared to work with the economically disadvantaged, the physically ill, and the mentally challenged. Because of the broad range of special populations, the social work curriculum in most colleges and universities is also quite broad. Most bachelor’s degree programs require students to complete courses in the following: –intro to social work –adolescent social work –gerontological social work –human Behavior –psychology –sociology The master’s degree in social work is a more advanced degree, and it is typically required to advance in the field and to hold managerial and top administrative positions.

The master’s degree is also a general requirement for those who desire to work in school settings, clinical practice, and health care settings. A doctorate degree in social work is generally required to teach social work courses in post-secondary schools. To earn the master’s of social work, most colleges and universities require students to concentrate on a particular field of practice, such as policy administration, counseling, child abuse, domestic violence, or crisis intervention, to name a few. Most MSW programs can be completed in 2 or 3 years.

The curriculum in the majority of colleges and universities includes courses similar to the following: –social work practice with special populations –social welfare –policy and services –marriage and family therapy –child abuse and neglect –management of non-profit agencies –issues in social justice –social work with the aging population Social Work Licensure Social workers who choose to work in clinical practice should be licensed by the state where they live. Licensing requirements vary from state to state. Those who are seeking a particular license much check with their state licensing agency to learn about the necessary requirements. In general, most states require clinical social workers to gain practical experience in clinical settings by observing licensed social workers for a specified length of time.

Other Necessary Qualifications

Because social workers often work with the public, they must be sociable and have the ability to work with people from all walks of life. Workers in the area of medical and public health care often work with the mentally ill, the physically ill, the elderly, and children. These workers must be patient, sensitive, and empathetic toward their clients. Because health care workers are often trusted with their client’s health care information, the worker should respect the patient’s right to confidentiality. Social work can be stressful, and those workers who have a strong desire to help others are sometimes the most successful.


Most health care social workers are employed by health care facilities and nursing homes. These types of social workers are also commonly found in government agencies. The work environment is typically a casual office environment. Workers may also live or work in a residential facility with the clients they serve. Sometimes social workers travel in their local area to meet with clients and social service providers. Medical and public health care workers may perform case work. Caseworkers serve multiple clients assigned to them. This type of work can be stressful due to oversized caseloads and the overwhelming demand to meet each client’s individual needs.

Job Outlook

Jobs in social work are fairly stable and are expected to grow quickly through at least the year 2018. As the Baby Boomer population ages, jobs in gerontological social work will grow. The needs of a growing aging population will require social workers to assist with helping the elderly obtain much needed health care benefits and services. Thus, jobs will grow significantly in the field of health care social work. Nursing homes, direct care facilities, home care agencies, and hospices will employ many gerontological social workers.

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Jobs for medical and public health care social workers are expected to grow by the thousands up until at least the year 2018. In 2008, the National Employment Matrix estimated that about 138,000 medical and public health care social workers were employed in the U.S. By 2018, it is estimated that the number of social workers employed in medical and public health fields will increase to approximately 170,000, which is the largest projected percentage increase in any of the social work fields.


In May of 2008, the median annual wages for public health and medical social workers was about $46,000 annually. On average, those who worked in medical and surgical hospitals earned slightly more than those employed by other institutions. About one quarter of all social workers belong to a labor union or receive some type of coverage under a union contract.

Related Occupations

There are dozens of occupations related to the field of social work. For example, psychologists often treat clients similar to those that social workers see. These patients may suffer from mental illnesses and personality disorders. If one of these patients cannot afford health care, then they may rely on a social worker to assist with health care services provided by the state or federal government. Legal professions may also tie into the field of social work. Some MSW and BSW holders may pursue a law degree in order to serve as a stronger social advocate for the clients they serve. In fact, a thorough understanding of the law is helpful in nearly all social work professions, particularly in those social work fields that deal with government policies and regulations.

Those social workers who lobby and advocate for changes to the criminal justice system must first understand the current structure of the system before they can begin to change it. Social work is related to all of the following fields:

  • Psychology
  • Counseling and therapy
  • Anthropology and sociology
  • Government and law
  • Theology

Sources of Additional Information

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) is the largest social work membership organization in America. The NASW provides advocacy information and resources for social workers. It also provides networking opportunities for its members. The association holds conferences where workers educate themselves about issues in their profession.

Members can fellowship with each other, share experiences, and ask questions. The NASW web address isĀ The Association of Social Work Boards can provide prospective social workers with specific requirements for obtaining a license in their state. The organization’s web address is

Related Jobs

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