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How to Become a Hospital Social Worker

Being hospitalized can be one of the most stressful situations you’ll face in your life. According to a recent study of stress, hospitalization ranks as the sixth most stressful incident in a person’s life, ranking just behind imprisonment.

This is where social work in hospitals comes in. Social workers in hospitals help patients and their family members overcome the emotional and physical challenges of hospitalization. This includes guiding them with emotional support and financial advice.

In this guide, we’ve compiled everything you need to know about how to become a hospital social worker.

What Is a Hospital Social Worker?

Hospital social workers are health care professionals who provide emotional support to patients on the road to recovery.

Although they mostly work with patients at the hospital, their work isn’t finished once a patient returns home. A hospital social worker needs to evaluate a patient’s overall health to provide him or her with a discharge plan for home care that includes a meal plan, transportation schedule, and counseling.

What Does a Hospital Social Worker Do?

A hospital social worker provides a patient with the necessary medical referrals for recovery, coordinates home health care services, and gives psychological support.

Some instances that would require the involvement of a social healthcare worker include incidents of sexual assault or child abuse. Hospital social workers may even be called upon to communicate with law enforcement if a patient’s case is under investigation.

Emotional Support

Providing emotional support to patients whose mental health is suffering due to hospitalization is a key aspect of hospital social work.

Arrangement of Home Care Services

Once a patient heads home, they will still need to attend follow-up appointments and undergo proper home care to fully recover. It is the duty of a hospital social worker to offer each patient’s family a detailed guide about how they should care for their relative once they are at home, including their nutritional intake.

Law Enforcement

It is also the responsibility of the social worker to assist law enforcement if there is an investigation related to a patient at the hospital.

Essential Hospital Social Worker Skills

As a hospital social worker, you must have strong interpersonal skills so that you can build relationships with inpatients. You will also need to be able to communicate with your colleagues, as you will be in charge of some administrative activities related to patient support. Below are some of the most crucial skills for a hospital social worker.


To maintain and coordinate discharge plans for multiple patients, you’ll need to be confident in your organizational skills. You will also need to have problem-solving skills so you can address a patient’s struggles with their illness.


Having communication and listening skills is also important. As a social worker, you will be in close contact with patients facing difficult situations, so you should know what to say to help their situation. You must always be patient and a good listener.

Emotional Stability

If you want to become a hospital social worker, you need to understand the complexity of this role. Being emotionally stable is vital. If you can’t stay strong when discussing stressful moments with patients, then you won’t be able to do your job.

Hospital Social Worker Salaries and Job Outlook

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for healthcare social workers is expected to grow by 14 percent in the next decade. The role of a hospital social worker is extremely important to the dynamic of health care facilities, which has led to increased demand.

If you’re considering this career, keep in mind that the average salary is $56,750 according to the bureau. However, you will eventually be able to move to more advanced positions within the healthcare services industry once you have gained some experience.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Hospital Social Worker?

To get a job as a hospital social worker, you’ll need to have a bachelor’s degree in social work, psychology, or sociology. These degrees take about four years to complete, after which point you might also want to get certified by taking a Council on Social Work Education-accredited program. This can take anywhere from eight to 16 months.

How to Become a Hospital Social Worker: A Step-by-Step Guide

To get a job in hospital social work, you’ll need to spend plenty of time preparing. This role requires that you have several years of social care education.

However, you don’t necessarily need to study at a top-level university to get employed in this field. Local programs can also be enough to help you get started in hospital social work.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work

The first step to becoming a hospital social worker is to get a bachelor’s degree in the field. This takes about four years. The Council on Social Work Education has accredited these types of programs so that students can start building their careers in social care right after graduation.

Although it’s not mandatory, you could also get a master of social work (MSW) to increase your chances of employment in a more advanced position. This master’s degree takes about two years to complete.

Step 2: Gain Experience

Before you start working in a hospital, you’ll need to get more field experience. Most aspiring hospital social workers start off in mental health facilities or drug abuse recovery centers as they get comfortable working firsthand with patients. After that, they can start looking for an entry-level job at a state social services agency to get used to handling patients’ caseloads.

Step 3: Look for a Job

Once you’ve spent some time working at a variety of health care and social work facilities, it is time to focus on your career. First, be sure to optimize your resume so that it reflects your skills. Showcase your experience and how you have used your competencies to overcome workplace challenges. This way, recruiters will be able to tell whether you’re right for the job.

Since all sorts of communication skills are key to hospital social care, you should keep a positive attitude during your interview. Display self-confidence, logical thinking, and empathy. Remember that recruiters are looking for strong interpersonal skills, so be prepared to prove that you’re capable of showing compassion and patience toward patients at the hospital.

Required Education to Become a Hospital Social Worker

To become a social worker at a hospital, you will need to have a bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW), which you can get online. Just make sure the program you enroll in is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. You can also apply for entry-level social work positions if you have a bachelor’s degree in psychology or sociology.

If you get an MSW, you will be presented with more career opportunities and a higher salary. Graduates who have earned a master’s of social work can land jobs as social program administrators, social welfare researchers, or social policy advocates.

Best Programs for Studying Hospital Social Work

The most important factor when deciding where to study for your bachelor’s degree is that it is accredited. Below are some of the best schools to attend for social work.

University of Southern California

The University of Southern California offers a CSWE-accredited online MSW. This program doesn’t require GRE scores and you can start in January, May, or September. To customize your course load, you can choose to specialize in Adult Mental Health and Wellness, Children, or Social Change and Innovation.

Boston University

Boston University is a prestigious institution that offers an online MSW, with the option to major in clinical social work. It also offers post-degree certifications for clinical social workers who want to take their careers a step further. BU consistently ranks as one of the best-value institutions of higher learning in the United States.

University of Pennsylvania

UPenn offers an MSW program that covers all the fundamental aspects of working in health care. It teaches students about counseling, medical equipment, and how to develop strategies to cope with each patient’s unique situation and dietary needs.

Hospital Social Worker Certifications

The most important qualification you will need to become a hospital social worker is a bachelor’s or master’s degree. However, having a certification will give you more credibility. Below are some of the top certificates that can boost your career in social work.

Social Worker in Gerontology Certification (ASW-G)

To get this certification, you should have a membership with the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) and an MSW from an institution accredited by CSWE. Keep in mind that you should have 3,000 hours of experience caring for older adults. These should all be hours for which you can provide documentation.

Social Worker in Health Care Certification (C-SWHC)

This is one of the most essential certifications you can get. It will prove that you are capable of providing patients with financial aid information, dietary instructions, risk management, and counseling. It will also show that you can provide families with the proper instructions for the patients’ recovery at home.

Oncology Social Work Certification (OSW-C)

This certification will help you demonstrate that you have the skills it takes to help oncology patients and their families or caregivers find the right path to recovery. Having this certification signals to potential employers that you have an exceptional level of competency.

Should You Become a Hospital Social Worker in 2020?

Hospital social workers are in high demand amid the pandemic, and will probably continue to be for the next couple of years. These professionals help patients overcome the stress of hospitalization, and help fulfill daily administrative tasks at the hospital. If you enjoy helping others, have strong interpersonal skills, and are emotionally stable, then this career could be perfect for you.

However, there are a few points you should take into consideration. Although this is a medical role, you will not have the same salary as a doctor or nurse. You should also be emotionally prepared to experience difficult situations, remaining calm and patient throughout.

Hospital social work can be very rewarding. If you have been hospitalized, you will understand the importance of having someone by your side to guide you through the recovery process. As a hospital social worker, you can be that person for someone else.


What is the difference between a social worker and a medical social worker?
This is a common point of confusion. It’s important to mention that both medical social workers and other hospital social workers help patients overcome difficult situations and guide them throughout their hospitalization. However, there are certain differences in what the two types of social workers are licensed to do. For example, a regular social worker can provide patients with financial guidance, help them find transportation to and from the hospital, and give them home-care equipment. They do not, however, provide treatment. Medical social workers offer counseling and treatment for a patient’s conditions.
Do social workers in hospitals wear scrubs?
Whether you wear scrubs or not will depend on how flexible the institution’s policy is. Some hospital social workers wear scrubs and other wear casual business clothes.
Are psychologists more skilled than social workers?
The purpose of both of these professionals is to provide patients with the emotional support they need to fully recover. Psychologists are experts when it comes to mental health, so they will excel in this area.  However, this doesn’t mean psychologists are better than social workers. Hospital social workers provide holistic solutions for patients’ medical problems, so their job goes beyond just counseling. They also provide financial guidance and overall health advice, taking care of all the logistics of recovery.
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