Medical social workers, also known as health and public health social workers, are professionals who help individuals dealing with illness. Medical social workers work in settings including medical hospitals, hospice, home-care and discharge planning offering support and advocacy. Most schools that offer an MSW (Master’s Degree in Social Work) can prepare a student for medical social work. Students pursuing this tract should consider the opportunities that individual schools offer (References 1).
While all social work schools will have similar courses that make up their core curriculum, students interested in medical social work should consider schools that offer some specific additional courses. Courses connected to medical social work include: human behavior, social welfare policy, communication skills (counseling), depression, grief and loss, aging and clinical practice as it applies to health or illness.
Some schools may offer a concentration in health-related social work or offer electives that focus on medical and health issues. Looking at these possibilities can help students to find a suitable program.
Some schools also require an independent research project or thesis. Students should consider schools where they can participate in research related to medical social work (References 1 & 2).
All master’s degree programs require a minimum of 900 hours of supervised fieldwork experience. For medical social work students, this is a key component to graduate education as is allow students to practice medical social work under the supervision of a licensed, professional medical social worker.
Student should consider social work programs that offer a range of possible field work experiences or who have ongoing relationships with solid medical fieldwork positions. (References 2 & 3).
Some schools offer dual masters degrees in Public Health and Social Work. Studying public health helps social workers to understand how social issues are connected to the health of a population. These programs consider social well being as it is connected to health. Students enrolled in these programs study topics including substance abuse and behavioral health policy and practice; violence and interventions for violence as well as accessibility of health care.
The advantage of public health programs is that they look at a broader or macro scope of health as connected to the individual. They may not be appropriate for students who are interested in clinical social work (References 1).
Some schools focus specifically on clinical social work. Clinical social workers also often work as medical social workers, providing individual therapy and support to patients around issues of health and illness, rather than the broader focus offered by public health social work. Students in clinical programs learn about providing mental health services-diagnosing and treating mental, behavioral and emotional disorders. Schools with this focus will offer curricula that focus on these problems.
Students interested in medical clinical social work should look for schools that offer fieldwork in hospital settings where the social workers primarily function as therapists (References 4).
Braintrack: Careers And Training For Medical and Public Health Social Workers
Bureau of Labor Statistics: Social Workers, 2011.
Eduation-Portal.com: How to Become a Medical Social Worker: Career Roadmap, 2011.
The Princeton Review: Clinical Social Work