Medical and Public Health Social Worker Career Summary
It’s a great time to start a career as a Medical and Public Health Social Worker. Job prospects are bright, especially in rural areas and for those specializing in the aging population. More than half of medical and public health social worker jobs are in social assistance and healthcare, while about one-third are in government agencies. In terms of education, medical and public health social workers generally need a bachelor’s degree, though some higher-level roles may require a graduate degree.
Public Health vs. Social Work
Public Health and Social Work fields differ significantly, though they have similar goals. Public Health professionals focus on the community dynamics of health, including the science behind pandemics, obesity and diseases. Meanwhile, Medical and Public Health Social Workers focus on the individuals behind the statistics and aim to help their clients live healthier lives.
Public Health Social Worker Job Description
Medical and public health social workers must have a strong desire to improve others’ lives. All public health social worker jobs involve helping others. They work with individuals who face medical or health issues. For example, medical and public health social workers may work with patients with life-threatening diseases or disabilities. In some cases, social workers conduct research, participate in policy development or advocate for improved services.
Public Health Social Worker Jobs
Mental health social workers provide psychological support to individuals, families or vulnerable populations facing terminal, chronic or acute illnesses such as cancer or Alzheimer’s disease. Hospital social workers may help plan for a patient’s post-hospital life, counsel patients or advise family caregivers. On occasion, medical and public health social workers need to arrange at-home services such as care or meals-on-wheels. Some work with a specific population, such as organ transplant patients or geriatric care.
Some medical and public health social workers may specialize in services for senior citizens and their families. They can run support groups for adult children of aging patients and coordinate and monitor services, including transportation, long-term care and housing. These medical and public health social workers are often referred to as gerontological social workers.
Medical and Public Health Social Worker Work Settings
Jobs for medical and public health social workers are usually found at hospitals, governments, individual and family services agencies and nursing and personal care facilities.
Typically, medical and public health social workers work in offices or residential facilities. However, sometimes they must travel locally to meet patients or attend meetings. Even though the job is satisfying, it’s often filled with stress and challenges. Many organizations are understaffed, adding heavy caseloads to medical and public health social workers. A 40-hour workweek is standard, but night and weekend hours may be required, too.
How To Become a Public Health Social Worker
If you want to know how to become a public health social worker, you have to start with education. Most medical and public health social workers need a bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) before they can begin working. Sociology, psychology and related fields may suffice at the entry level. For advanced positions, medical and public health social workers need an advanced degree. A master’s degree in social work (MSW) is required for medical and public health social workers in health settings and is necessary for clinical work. The same goes for supervisory, administrative and staff training positions.
Masters degree programs usually allow students to take classes concentrating on their chosen field, such as medical and public health social workers. They can also learn to manage large caseloads, perform clinical assessments, explore new social services methods and take on supervisory roles. MSW programs typically take two to four years to complete. To enroll, students do not need a BSW, but they are encouraged to have a background in sociology, biology, political science, economics and psychology.
Social Work Licensure
All states require some form of license, certification or registration to practice Social Work at an advanced level. For example, many states require 3,000 hours of experience over two years for medical and public health social workers to become licensed. However, states vary, so prospective medical and public health social workers should check their state requirements.
Medical and public health social workers should be sensitive, objective and emotionally mature. They must handle responsibility, maintain good working relationships and work independently. A paid or volunteer position as a social work aide can provide prospective medical and public health social workers with a taste of the job before committing to a degree.
With experience and an advanced degree, medical and public health social workers can advance to supervisor, assistant director, executive director or program manager positions. Others may go into private practice, providing psychotherapy.
Employment and Job Outlook for Medical and Public Health Social Workers
As of February 2022, about 715,000 social workers were employed in the US and 184,900 were medical and public health social workers. Most work in cities or suburbs.
Social workers should see an employment jump of about 12 percent, faster than average for all occupations. One of the biggest reasons for this growth is the rise of the elderly population. Increasingly, aging people and their families will turn to medical and public health social workers for help finding the best care and assistance. With the increasing number of senior living and assisted living communities, having a background in gerontology may open up excellent career opportunities. The demand for medical and public health social workers in long-term care facilities, hospices, home care agencies and nursing homes will also increase.
More jobs will open up as workers leave the occupation. Positions in cities with many social worker training programs will have more competition. A background in gerontology will lead to some of the best job opportunities in social work.
Public Health Social Worker Salary
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wages for medical and public health social workers is around $60,000. The highest 10 percent earn above $87,000, the lowest 10 percent earn under $36,000 and the middle 50 percent earn between $45,000 and $72,000. Broken down by the top industries employing medical and public health social workers, wages are as follows:
General medical and surgical hospitals: around $66,000
Individual and family services: around $50,000
Home health care services: around $63,000
Outpatient care centers: around $62,000
Nursing care facilities: around $56,000
Figures are from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and are accurate as of February 2022.