What Qualifications Does One Need to Become a Hospital Social Worker?
Social workers can wind up in a number of different office/workplace settings, including government buildings, educational facilities, hospitals, and more. For individuals interested in social work and mental and physical health, a path towards the hospital space could prove to be a very rewarding career.
Referred to as medical social workers, those who perform their social work duties in the hospital often have very specialized skill sets to help patients based on age, gender, or most often, their diagnosis.
The hospital setting is actually the most common for social workers, but these specialized skill sets make for a wide array of day-to-day activities that aspiring hospital social workers can choose to focus on in school, and ultimately do for a living. Some of these specializations are pediatrics, mental health, abuse victims, oncology, nephrology, and emergency care, though further specializations in each are aplenty.
Regardless of specialization, however, the career paths for social workers with an interest in performing their duties in the hospital setting are pretty similar!
If there were any silver linings to the COVID pandemic, two would be the education gained in regards to preparing for future pandemics, and evolutions in online education at the academic level. With the latter in mind, a career in hospital social work doesn’t have to be something that only recent high school graduates can consider, as self-paced online learning allows for adults to slowly but surely pursue their educations while still tending to families, current jobs, or whatever else may take up the bulk of their days when traditional students would be in class.
Generally, hospital social workers need to have a BSW, or Bachelors of Social Work, which typically takes four years at a regular institution. Core classes for social work will teach all about patient care and communication, and how to identify deep-rooted issues within a given patient. Due to a society that has been, and continues to be in many aspects, more difficult for minorities and women, understanding things like implicit bias and cultural awareness are also very important for social workers and taught and re-taught at the collegiate level.
After attaining a degree, most states require hospital social workers to pass a social work licensing exam, and then some of the aforementioned focuses for hospital social workers may have their own, secondary licensure, such as those who wish to work with victims of domestic abuse.
For hospital social workers, it is also necessary to have, at least, a baseline understanding of medical terms and medical conditions, but these can generally be learned after selecting an area of the hospital in which you wish to work. If you decide early, you may want to consider some healthcare electives in college.
Ultimately, social workers are problem solvers, so communication, organization, and critical thinking are all very important and should be regularly polished if you’re choosing a career in social work (regardless of the area). In the hospital, emotional intelligence is also very important, as many of your patients will have just experienced trauma, so a soft and understanding hand is much more important than knowing everything and anything about a given condition. Empathy and teamwork fall into this as well.
As some of the patients dealt with will be children or state-mandated, it is also key to have a high tolerance for dismissive attitudes, and an ability to always see the good in people.
Job Search Time!
Armed with an education, licensures, and a firm grasp on the other soft skills mentioned, you’re ready to start looking for jobs as a hospital social worker. The median salary for these jobs is upwards of $50,000 per year, and advancement opportunities are aplenty. With that, paying back student loans is actually a bearable thing for social workers, and be sure to ask your potential hospital if they offer any benefits that include student loan help, or further education.