Medical and public health social workers provide psychological and emotional support to their clients. They help individuals, families and at-risk populations to cope with serious and chronic illnesses like cancer and HIV. They also provide support and advice to caregivers, and plan for patient care after clients are discharged from a hospital or healthcare facility. This may include arranging for treatment at home and meal delivery.
Individuals in this field sometimes work on diverse teams involving specialists in various disciplines in order to evaluate geriatric, transplant and other patients. Medical and public health social workers may provide services for specific groups, such as senior citizens, and offer support services and counseling for the adult children and caregivers of aging parents. This might involve setting up and monitoring housing, long-term treatment and transportation services.
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Key focus areas within medical and public health social work include HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, child abuse prevention, services for people with disabilities, mental health treatment, substance abuse prevention and interventions, disaster preparation and response, and maternal and child health.
Social Worker Jobs Summary
- Most medical and public health social workers are employed in hospitals or by individual and family service organizations.
- A bachelor’s degree is required by most employers.
- Workers may specialize in areas such as HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, Alzheimer’s or the elderly population.
- The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts employment in this field will grow faster than average.
Work Environment for Social Workers
Medical and public health social workers typically conduct their work in an office setting, but they may also be required to travel offsite to meet with clients or participate in meetings. Some work may take place in hospitals and other healthcare facilities. Social workers usually have a 40-hours work week, but they may occasionally work weekends and nights in order to serve clients, participate in community events or deal with emergencies. Social work can be challenging and stressful at times due to understaffing and heavy client caseloads within some agencies. Part-time work is also available, depending on the agency, and is an option in many volunteer non-profit organizations.
Social Worker Degree Requirements
To obtain a position in medical and public health social work, individuals must possess a bachelor’s degree, which is the minimum requirement. Those who major in sociology, psychology and similar fields may be able to qualify for entry-level positions in smaller agencies. Administrative and managerial positions usually require a graduate degree. Some agencies require individuals to hold a master's degree in social work (MSW) concentrating in policy or administration. Higher education teaching and research opportunities typically require a doctorate.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), as of June 2009, there were 468 accredited undergraduate programs and 196 accredited master’s degree programs in social work within the United States. An additional 74 programs led to a Doctor of Social Work (DSW) or PhD in this field.
Undergraduate programs include coursework in cultural diversity, ethics, social justice, human behavior, social welfare, social research methodology and at-risk populations. Accredited degree programs require field experience in addition to coursework.
Graduate degree programs allow students to prepare for work within their chosen specialization and train them on how to do clinical assessments, supervise others and meet diverse client needs. Master’s degree programs in social work are usually two years long and include additional hours of work site instruction or internships. Part-time programs are available and can usually be completed in four years. A bachelor’s degree is not necessarily required for entrance into a master’s degree program in social work; however, courses in the same or a related field – such as psychology, sociology and economics – can fulfill prerequisites. A foreign language can also be helpful, as it allows medical and public health social workers to serve clients from different backgrounds.
Medical and public health workers need to be emotionally stable, sensitive and able to view the problems of the people they assist objectively. They also need to have the ability to work independently, handle multiple caseloads and foster good working relationships with colleagues and clients. Managerial and administrative positions usually require and advanced degree and experience. Additional career opportunities include education, consulting and research.
Social Worker Salary Outlook and Job Projections
Medical and public health social workers held approximately 133,510 jobs in May 2009, according to research published by the BLS. Most of these positions were in hospitals and individual and family services organizations. Other employers included home healthcare providers, nursing care facilities and local government agencies.
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The BLS projects employment in this field to grow faster than average compared to other occupations. Job opportunities will be favorable, especially within the elderly and rural populations.
BLS records indicated that the average annual wage for medical and public health social workers was $48,340 in May 2009. The middle 50% of professionals in this field earned between $36,090 and $58,490, while the lowest 10% made around $28,600. The highest 10% earned an annual income of approximately $71,190.