Clinical and medical social work involves working with individuals, families and vulnerable populations dealing with mental or physical health ailments. Issues can range from substance abuse to terminal disease. Keep reading to learn about becoming a licensed social worker in these health-related fields.
Social workers provide assistance to adults, children and families to help them work through a range of personal issues and improve their overall living situations. Clinical social workers focus on mental health, while medical social workers help people deal with physical illnesses, such as AIDS, cancer, Alzheimer's and other chronic or terminal diseases. Clinical and medical social workers are responsible for counseling patients, arranging post-hospital services and aiding family members in providing adequate care for patients. A genuine desire to work with and support others is essential for success as a clinical or medical social worker.
Clinical and medical social workers are often employed in healthcare settings, such as hospitals, nursing care facilities and outpatient care centers. You could also work independently in private practice, dealing directly with clients. Other career possibilities include working for government, public health and family service agencies, as well as schools and substance abuse treatment facilities. Entry-level positions include working as a mental health assistant, healthcare counselor or program coordinator in a healthcare setting. A master's degree can qualify you for work as a licensed clinical social worker in private practice or a healthcare setting, while a doctorate will enable you to pursue research or teaching positions at universities and colleges.
If you're interested in becoming a clinical or medical social worker, job prospects appear promising. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs for social workers in general were expected to grow by 16% in the period of 2008-2018; this rate is faster than the national average (www.bls.gov). In addition, the BLS expected jobs for medical and public health social workers to grow at an even faster rate of 22% over this same period, largely due to an aging population. As of May of 2010, the median annual salary for healthcare social workers was $47,230; for mental health and substance abuse social workers, the median yearly salary was $38,600, per the BLS.
A bachelor's degree is the minimum requirement needed to enter the field of social work. At this level, the primary degree is the Bachelor of Social Work, although degrees in closely related fields like sociology or psychology may be sufficient for some basic jobs. While the bachelor's degree may qualify you for generalist entry-level work, the Master of Social Work is often required for health-related positions and clinical practice. Some schools offer combined Master in Social Work and Master of Public Health degrees as well. A Doctor of Philosophy in Clinical Social Work (Ph.D.) or Doctor of Social Work is often required for advanced clinical practice, upper-level research and college teaching positions.
Most graduate programs offer concentrations in clinical or medical social work. Core clinical social work courses often include professional social work practice, human behavior and social welfare policy, while medical social work courses include psychosocial practice, healthcare policy and health promotion. Courses within advanced degree programs may also incorporate social measurement, ethics, data analysis and research methods. Most social work programs include a practicum, whereby you'll be able to gain work-related experience in your interest area. Look for programs accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.
All states require social workers to become licensed, registered or certified to practice as a social worker. While requirements vary, most states require a degree from an accredited school and at least two years or 3,000 hours of supervised clinical practice to become licensed as a social worker. The Association of Social Work Boards maintains four examinations used by state licensing boards, which include the bachelor's, master's, advanced generalist and clinical licensing exams (www.aswb.org). Some states may not regulate all levels of practice, so be sure to check your state's requirements.
Ongoing professional development opportunities are available through such organizations as the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), which offers continuing education, job information and specialty credentials, including the Certified Social Worker in Healthcare and the Qualified Clinical Social Worker (www.socialworkers.org). While specific requirements vary by credential, most require a master's degree in social work, several years of supervised work experience and state licensure. The American Board of Examiners in Clinical Social Work offers national certification in four specialty practice areas, such as psychoanalysis and clinical supervision, which generally require relevant training, supervised practice, continuing education and more (www.abecsw.org).