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Online Masters Programs for Medical Social Workers: Degree Info

A number of general online Master of Social Work programs are available that prepare graduates for jobs as medical social workers. Many online programs sometimes include a clinical concentration that better suits individuals pursuing careers in medical social work. Graduates should be able to provide advanced social services to both families and individuals.

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Essential Information

Online master's degree programs are available for aspiring medical social workers. In-person clinical experiences are a typical requirement for these online social work programs, to give students face-to-face practice working with clients. Clinical social workers are generally required to hold a master's degree in social work as well as professional licensing. Licensing requirements vary by state, however, so check for state-specific requirements when choosing an educational program.

Overview of an Online Master's Degree Program in Social Work

An online master's degree program in social work prepares graduates to assist individuals, families and groups struggling with a plethora of issues, including child abuse, terminal illness, long-term unemployment, homelessness, substance abuse and disability. Emphasis is often placed on communication and analytical skills, as well as social welfare policy, cultural diversity and economic justice.

Online social work master's degree programs commonly offer both a policy-based and clinical concentration. The policy-based concentration is geared towards prospective social workers interested in advocacy, administration and public policy. The clinical concentration is more appropriate for individuals interested in working as a medical social worker or in areas such as mental health or substance abuse. Medical social workers typically help various populations deal with AIDS, cancer or other terminal and chronic illnesses. They may also assist patients being discharged from the hospital and advise family caregivers.

Program Information and Requirements

Online Master of Social Work programs are typically around 36-60 credits in length, depending on the prospective student's previous educational experience. Individuals holding a bachelor's degree in social work can enter programs with advanced standing and enter directly into the advanced social work curriculum. Those with a bachelor's degree in a field other than social work must complete additional foundational coursework. Online social work master's degree programs may require brief on-campus visits and also commonly require students to complete local field placements.

Online master's degree programs in social work utilize online course management systems such as Blackboard, allowing students the opportunity to access course materials, syllabi, lecture materials and course calendars. Prospective students should have access to a computer with an updated operating system, such as Windows XP, an updated Web browser, a Web camera and Microsoft Office. Courses may require students to purchase specific software programs and have plug-ins such as Apple Quick Time, Real Video Player and Adobe Acrobat Reader.

Sample Master's-Level Social Work Courses

A master's-level social work curriculum prepares graduates to transition social work theory into practice.

Social Policy Course

A social policy course explores both current and historical issues in social welfare policy. Areas of study might include social policy analysis, policy implementation, human needs and poverty.

Human Behavior Course

This course covers the social and psychological development of human behavior. Additional areas covered might include social interventions, the biosocial process and cultural diversity.

Community Practice Course

This course provides students with a strong foundation in the inner workings and needs of both communities and organizations. Topics covered include community building, social planning and community capacity building.

Career Information for Graduates

Graduates of an online master's degree program in social work are prepared for employment in settings such as adoption agencies, social service agencies, elderly services, child protection agencies and addiction service centers. Employment settings specifically for medical social workers might include government agencies, family service agencies, nursing care facilities and hospitals.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a master's degree is typically required for clinical work, including work in health settings. A master's degree also prepares graduates for licensure. Licensure typically requires up to two years of supervised clinical experience, most of which would commonly be done in a public health setting for individuals interested in working as a medical social worker.

Employment for social workers in general was expected to increase by 25% (faster than the average for all occupations) from 2010-2020, according to the BLS ( The BLS also reports median annual earnings for medical social workers at more than $49,800 as of May 2012. For individuals interested in positions in research or academia, a doctorate degree is commonly required.

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