5 Job Duties of Medical Social Workers

Medical social workers enjoy interesting and rewarding jobs. By helping patients navigate the healthcare system and work towards wellness, you can feel good about the work you every day working for a hospital or medical office. Although no two jobs in hospital social work are the same, here are five common job duties you'll likely be assigned at some point in your career.

Patient Advocacy

Sometimes, you must stand up for your patients and advocate for their rights to culturally appropriate healthcare. This may mean pointing out that a patient struggles with literacy, financial resources or transportation needs and working with the patient's medical team to overcome these problems. Physicians are often frustrated by patients who don't follow medical orders, but you can help medical workers understand the barriers your patients face.

Mental Health Services

In many healthcare teams, social workers provide mental health assessment and counseling. Rather than call in a psychiatrist from outside of the hospital, doctors may ask a social worker with a master's of social work (MSW) degree to assess a patient's mental well-being. You can serve as a critical first step in connecting your patients to mental healthcare services by deciding if formal psychiatric care is needed. You may also provide on-the-spot counseling for patients struggling with an active mental illness or mental disability as well as family members, patients and even staff who simply need a supporting presence.

Patient Education

One of the biggest impacts you can have as a hospital-based social worker is by providing patient education. Numerous studies have shown that educated patients have better outcomes, but nurses and doctors often struggle with heavy caseloads that prevent them from spending enough time with every patient. You can help patients understand their discharge paperwork, ensure they know how to obtain and use their medications and explain the importance of follow-up visits. You can also connect patients with the additional resources they need to be healthy once they leave the hospital.

Community Organization

Patients often experience self-esteem issues when undergoing treatment. For example, cancer patients may need to actively work to rebuild their self-image after chemotherapy and other treatments. As a medical social worker, you can organize and lead peer groups for patients dealing with the side effects of visiting the hospital. This could be a recovery group for women with cancer, a support group for new parents or a socialization group for parents of children with chronic illnesses. As a social worker in a medical setting, you can help these visitors build vital social connections, improve their mental health and deepen their understanding of the medical process.

Macro-level Interventions

A master's in social work degree splits its focus between macro- and micro-level skills, so you'll graduate with the policy and organizational background to lead changes at the community level. To promote health in your neighborhood, you might partner with a local farmer's market to increase access to fresh produce, convince the busing agency to create more routes to your healthcare facility or work with your school board to promote healthy activities for children. Big picture items can affect hundreds or thousands of patients and highlight your employer's commitment to community-level development.

In this field, you'll help new patients every day with small issues like finding a ride home or large challenges like finding food to put on the table. With the high level of variety and personal fulfillment, it's easy to see why medical social workers love their jobs.