Social workers work with individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities supporting people to function well in their surroundings, whether at home, work, or in the community. Maturity, objectivity, and sensitivity to people and their problems are key traits of a social worker.
Description of health care career information and the daily work:
In medical settings, you will help patients and their families deal with problems related to physical, mental, or emotional illness and disability. As a member of the health care team, you will assist with transitioning people back into society after hospitalization or rehabilitation.
When located directly in a community, you work to ensure people have the resources to solve financial, health, family or other problems. You may also assist residents in finding employment or housing. Providing personal counseling or leading support groups to help individuals and families improve their problem-solving and coping skills is another function.
Most social workers choose to specialize in one of three main areas:
Child, family, and school social workers – Some social workers help families to function at their best so that children succeed in school and all family members feel supported.
Medical and public health social workers – Providing counseling and support to patients and their families dealing with chronic, acute, or terminal illnesses such as cancer, AIDS, Alzheimer’s or other diseases is the heart of your work.
Mental health and substance abuse social workers – Treating people with mental illness or substance abuse problems may involve providing individual and group therapy, outreach, crisis intervention, and training in how to perform daily activities of living.
Because the title of social worker encompasses so many duties, work settings will vary significantly. In health care, social workers are mainly employed in hospitals, clinics, mental health facilities, nursing homes, community and public health centers, federal agencies, and patient homes. The will often work alongside other health care providers.
The ability to work well independently and with groups of coworkers and clients is essential. A 40 hour work week is standard for full-time social workers. Sometimes you may need to work evenings or weekends if you are attending community meetings or dealing with emergencies.
Education Requirements, Licensure/Certification:
To work as a social worker in most of the States, you must be licensed by the State Board of Registration of Social Work. There are four levels of licensure in your State. Each requires an examination and different education and work experience. If you have a bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) or a master in social work (MSW), it must be from an institution accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.
Licensed Social Work Associate (LSWA) – To sit for this examination, you must have an associate’s degree (AA) or Bachelor’s degree (BA or BS) in a field outside of social work. This is for entry-level non-clinical work only. You cannot perform any clinical functions with this license and you must be supervised by a LSW, LCSW, or LICSW.
Licensed Social Worker (LSW) – Generally you must have a BSW. Or if you have a degree in another field, then you must have a certain amount of experience working under the supervision of a licensed social worker that can be documented. This license allows you to provide only non-clinical social work services. You can provide case management services of a non-clinical nature and provide administrative supervision.
Licensed Certified Social Worker (LCSW) – You must have a Master in Social Work (MSW) to sit for this examination. This is the first license level that allows you to provide clinical social work services.
Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) – You must have a Master in Social Work (MSW), already hold the LCSW, and have at least two years of social work experience following the attainment of the MSW. This is the highest level of licensure. With a LICSW you no longer have to work under a supervisor. This allows you to have a private practice.
BSW programs prepare graduates for direct service positions such as caseworker. Courses may include social work values and ethics, dealing with a culturally diverse population, promotion of social and economic justice, human behavior and the social environment, social work practice, and field education. Accredited BSW programs require a minimum of 400 hours of supervised field experience.
A master’s degree is required for clinical work and typically for positions in health settings. Supervisory, administrative, and staff training positions usually require an advanced degree. Master’s programs are two years and include a minimum of 900 hours of supervised field instruction or internship.
The national median earnings of child, family, and school social workers were $33,150 in 2002. The national median earnings of medical and public health social workers were $37,380 in 2002. National median earnings of mental health and substance abuse social workers were $32,850 in 2002. In 2005, the hourly range for social workers with a BSW was $16.51 to $25.93, for those with a LCSW it was $18.72 to $29.32, and for those with a LICSW it was $19.40 to $31.20.
Career Path and/or Opportunities for Growth:
Advancement is usually dependent upon additional education, work experience, and licensure attainment. Advancement opportunities may include becoming a supervisor, program manager, assistant director, or executive director of a social service agency or department. Other social workers may opt to teach, do research, or consult. Still others choose to go into private practice.
Council on Social Work Education
National Association of Social Workers