Become a Hospital Social Worker: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Learn how to become a hospital social worker. Research the job description and the education and licensing requirements, and find out how to start a career as a hospital social worker.

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Hospital Social Workers

When families go through life-changing medical crises, hospital social workers step in to educate patients and their loved ones. They may also counsel patients and provide support in finding necessary resources for their care. Some healthcare social workers serve specialized populations, such as the elderly and hospice patients. Large caseloads caused by under-staffing can make many social work positions stressful, and some of these professionals work weekends, evenings and holidays.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Master's degree
Degree Field Social work
Licensure or Certification Licensure or certification required in all states
Experience Typically 1-5 years
Key Skills Ability to relate to clients and form strong relationships; time management, organization, written, and verbal communication skills; knowledge of community resources; adept at assessing patient's psychosocial needs
Median Salary (2015)* $52,380 (for healthcare social workers)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics*, job postings (July 2012).

It is standard for hospital social workers to have a master's degree in social work and licensure or certification is required in all states, though requirements vary. Typically, 1-5 years of experience in the field is necessary. Aspiring hospital social workers should be able to relate to clients and form strong relationships.

They should have good time management, organization, and written and verbal communication skills. Additionally, they should have knowledge of community resources, and be adept at assessing patient's psychosocial needs.

The median annual salary for these professionals was $52,380 according to 2015 data gathered by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Becoming a Hospital Social Worker

Step 1: Complete a Bachelor's Degree Program

Prospective hospital social workers can begin their career path with a bachelor's degree in social work or in another discipline, such as psychology or sociology. Bachelor's degree programs in social work may focus on human behavior, socio-economic context, industry ethics, research methods, social welfare or other related areas. Graduates can gain experience for an entry-level social work position or prepare for a graduate degree program through field education or internship opportunities offered by many programs.

Aspiring hospital social workers might also:

  • Consider 5-year Bachelor of Social Work/Master of Social Work programs. For students who know that they want to become a hospital social worker after graduation, completing a dual degree program takes less time than it takes to finish both separately.

They should also:

  • Work on communication and interpersonal skills. Hospital social workers often deal with clients from various ethnic and cultural backgrounds, so it's important to be able to empathize and relate to the people they serve.

Interested individuals should also:

  • Pursue CPR certification as a tool to stand out among job candidates. Some employers prefer hospital social workers with cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification. This credential can be beneficial to hospital social workers since they interact with individuals in medical settings, such as hospices and hospitals.

Step 2: Complete a Master's Degree Program

A Master of Social Work is required to become a clinical social worker. Accredited master's degree programs typically require supervised experience or an internship in the field, as well as specialized theoretical studies in areas like healthcare social work. This combination of hands-on training and lecture coursework can help aspiring hospital social workers build the necessary skills to work in a field that requires a certain level of emotional maturity, good work ethics and solid interpersonal skills. Some programs offer areas of concentration, such as healthcare, school, child and mental health social work.

  • Learning a foreign language could also be helpful. Some hospital social workers serve predominantly immigrant populations and may find increased employment opportunities if they can speak fluently in a language other than English.

Step 3: Obtain Licensure and Certification

Depending on individual state and district regulations, a license may be required to practice certain types of social work and use the Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) title. Requirements vary by state, but two years of professional experience and supervised clinical practice are typically necessary before taking the LCSW exam.

Aspiring hospital social workers should also:

  • Think about getting certified. The National Association of Social Workers offers a Certified Social Worker in Health Care designation for individuals with a master's degree and a license. Other eligibility requirements include a minimum of two years or 3,000 hours of supervised and paid post-master's social work experience. Certification demonstrates expertise in the field and may lead to more employment opportunities.

Step 4: Renew Certification

Once certified with NASW, keep certification current by renewing every two years. In order to renew, a hospital social worker must have at least 20 hours of continuing contact education relevant to the hospital setting. They must also be up to date on all state licensure requirements.

A master's degree in social work is required to work as a hospital social worker and as of 2015 data, these professionals earned a median salary of $52,380.

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