Anyone interested in the field of healthcare and health work will discover a plethora of different jobs available that they can take on. These roles can include doctors, nurses, and medical specialists. However, if they are the type of person who likes to get to know the patients that they are working with, if they like to advocate for them and their needs, and they are someone who believes that the story of a patient is something that will always impact their success while being cared for, then they should explore what it takes to be a social worker.
Social workers are some of the unsung heroes of the medical field. While they mostly work behind the scenes, they have a large impact on the medical field and ensure that patients leave the hospital with all their needs met.
But why are social workers so important? What services do they provide for patients and their families? And how can an individual become one if they are passionate about what social workers are doing for the medical community? Here’s all that should be known about the field of social work, and its much wider application to the field of medicine.
What do social workers in healthcare do?
There’s a problem in healthcare where many doctors will attempt to treat the disease or condition affecting the patient, and not the patient themselves. This can sometimes lead to misdiagnosis, incorrect treatment, and other problems that can prevent people from healing. If a common treatment can help nine out of ten people, that’s great, but eventually that tenth person is going to come through the door asking for help.
Social workers work with all types of medical patients, and the exact specifics of their job will change from day to day depending on the type of patient they work with and their unique circumstances. However, there are a few main responsibilities of a social worker that will almost always be applicable.
Managing the patient’s physical and psychological needs
A clinical social worker’s first responsibility is to the patient. They are the bridge between what the patient needs and what the doctors and nurses can provide. So, they will often meet with a patient and attain a history of their illness, injury, or affliction. They will also try to understand and document any financial, social, and emotional needs that the patient may have.
They will then create a personalized plan to make sure that the lines of communication stay open between the patient’s family, the patient, the doctors, and the medical staff. They can also connect patients with long term support services as well. Additionally, if the patient and their family have questions about the illness, treatment, or steps in the process, then the social worker will be able to answer them.
One of the biggest benefits of having a social worker around is that they will be able to answer all the patient’s questions and make sure that everyone is comfortable and informed. When a patient is in the hospital, it can be a very scary and stressful time for everyone, and having someone who is dedicated to answering questions truthfully and clearly can be very reassuring.
There’s a benefit to having well educated and informed patients, because it stops them from worrying about how they will get better and allows them to simply focus on recovery.
Assistance beyond hospital care
One of the issues that many patients and their families will encounter when going to the hospital is that their journey doesn’t end when they are discharged. Often, the patient still has a very long road to recovery and now they need to traverse it without the support and resources of the hospital.
However, medical social workers can develop discharge plans to help patients and their families find resources that help the patient recover beyond the hospital. Often, the social worker will take the lead on creating in-home care options, taking on the responsibilities of rehabilitation, and changing the recovery plan from being hospital-focused to home based.
Life after treatment can be a massive adjustment for many patients, but social workers are there to make it smoother.
Supporting patient rights and individuality
Medical Social workers understand that every patient is different, and that the treatment options available can place enhanced strain on particular patients who might have problems coping. Medical social workers can talk with their patients and ensure that pain and negative side effects from some of the treatment options are handled, and they can also lead support groups.
For many patients, simply knowing that they are not alone in recovery can be a blessing. For common diseases, such as cancer, there are plenty of support groups that are led and run by medical social workers that focus on one affliction, and allow patients to share their struggles and talk through them.
Finally, medical social workers can serve as advocates for the rights of their patients under the American Medical Association. They ensure that every patient is being treated with respect by those who are assigned to care for them. If a patient has an obstacle that they are struggling with, the social worker will work to inform the doctor.
How to become a social worker
Social workers are always going to be very important for patients and the healthcare system in general to rely on, but the road to becoming one isn’t that easy.
Those who ask how to become a licensed clinical social worker, will find a long list of answers. First, individuals need to have numerous essential skills. These skills can include active listening, case management, communication, empathy, organization, problem solving, and planning. All these skills will certainly aid social workers in one way or another during their careers.
As for education, many social worker positions require licenses which must be obtained. One of the most common education requirements is the Master of Social Work (MSW), which is the baseline for most healthcare jobs concerning patients.
While individuals can get by with a Baccalaureate of Social Work (BSW), the MSW ensures that they can get higher level jobs and have the skills and training needed to complete the requirements. A BSW will enable an individual to make changes to macro level programs and policies but may restrain them from working directly with patients.
Florida State University’s MSW will prepare students for various leadership roles and will also allow them to work with patients by offering treatments, leading them in therapy and support groups, and connecting them to the various services they will need.
The licensing requirements will often depend on the state as well as the specific job role. Students should research the qualifications thoroughly as they will often require additional educational study, as well as time spent working under supervision with qualified professionals.
Supervised clinical work will allow individuals to work with various social workers in a supervised environment. Students will be able to ask questions and work with patients directly in the field. It is advisable to take these two to three years of supervised clinical work seriously, as students can really make the most of it and catapult their careers to new heights.
Clinical social worker job locations
After completing exams, training, and other requirements, students will be able to work with and represent patients in a large variety of environments. Here are just a few of the places a job as a social worker might take these students.
Whether a student lands in a general medical hospital or a hospital focused on performing lifesaving surgeries, they will find that no day is the same. Many people come into the hospital with all types of injuries, ailments, and afflictions, from being sick with a virus, to needing a bone replaced, to requiring a life-saving operation.
All these patients are going to need social workers to represent them, and they are all going to have different questions and requirements. For all social workers, whether they are a jack of all trades type of social worker, or a social worker assigned to a specific department of the hospital, the work is fast paced and will provide a lot of experience with a diverse range of patients very quickly.
- Individual and family services
Of course, not every social worker needs to work at a hospital, and instead they can go into family or individually owned services. There are plenty of counseling and recovery centers with patients that can and will benefit from the skills of a medical social worker, and they can be very helpful in the continued fight to give advocacy to patients who need it.
These social workers will work with the patients to identify their challenges, offer counseling and lead therapy groups, and connect the patient and overall service to outside entities that might be able to offer different or more specialized aid.
It may be slower than working at a traditional hospital, but when it comes to making a difference in the lives of the people, many social workers find a good home with individual and family service centers all around
- Home healthcare services
Many patients have short or long-term medical conditions that are not serious enough to warrant a hospital visit but are debilitating enough to keep them from living a normal life. They could be discharged from a hospital but still in recovery from an illness or injury or could be receiving home-based treatment.
Home healthcare services allow for these patients to receive specialized medical treatment in their own homes by qualified doctors and nurses. But those under home healthcare still require social services and they also deserve to have their rights defended, which is where social workers come in.
They can assess patients and ensure that the hospital is providing all the services they need. They can also provide emotional support and simply have a conversation with the patient to give them someone to talk to. Additionally, they can help both the healthcare nurse and the hospital better coordinate care to make sure all the needs of the patient are fully met.
Many home healthcare patients, despite being in the comfort of their own homes, can often feel nervous or worried about how their care and treatment are going and how their condition is looking. Being able to talk to a social worker about this can help to put them at ease and improve the home healthcare experience for everyone.
- Nursing homes
Finally, the elderly need support and representation too, and if these patients have long term needs, they can greatly benefit from a social worker. It is no secret that the elderly have a few stories to share, and often those stories can explain some of their afflictions or illnesses. By working with a qualified social worker, they can ensure that their story gets told, and that their care is adjusted accordingly.
Social workers can develop a long-term relationship with their patients and the patients’ families. They can strengthen and reopen the lines of communication between the patients and the people who provide for them, provide needed services, and recommend other services that might improve their quality of life.
Handling the responsibilities of a social worker
Being a social worker in any of the above scenarios can be a massive challenge for many people, and they might find that the responsibilities of being a social worker are a greater weight than they first thought. Thankfully, there are several ways to handle the day-to-day life of working with and representing patients, and many of them call back to the skills needed to succeed in this line of work.
- Knowing the patient
While it might be difficult for social workers with a dozen patients every given month, part of being able to properly represent patients requires understanding them. This often means going deeper than just understanding their medical history and the story behind their illness or affliction. It is about knowing who they are.
Social workers shouldn’t be afraid to get a little personal. They should ask about their hobbies, life, and what brings them joy, for example. Developing empathy towards patients will help social workers represent them better, because they will feel passion for their needs.
- Taking pride in victories
One of the best things about being a social worker is that the professional ‘victories’ actually help people. Every time a social worker successfully represents their patients to doctors and caregivers, they are bringing light to an issue and making the life of the patient a little bit better. Social workers should not be afraid to celebrate victories and take pride in how much they are helping people. This will make the responsibilities much easier to bear.
Becoming social workers to represent the patient
All forms of healthcare are about representing the patient, and the social worker is a vital part of that for patients. Individuals who love to get to know patients and can actively listen, be empathetic, and communicate effectively on their behalf, could be perfect for the job of a medical social worker.
No matter which field students go into or what type of work they choose to pursue, they should take pride in the fact that they will always be representing patients, and that’s something the patients will always be grateful for when they need a voice the most.