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Herzing University

Dr. Cynthia E. Baker, Ed.D., MSW, LCSW

Answering Your Questions on Medical Social Work Specializations

Take the next step toward a successful and fulfilling career by understanding some common information about specializing in medical social work.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) define health equity as people having a fair and just opportunity to attain their highest level of health. Achieving health equity can be a monumental task, and medical social workers are well-equipped for the ongoing societal efforts to address historical and contemporary injustices.

Before you can start a rewarding career in social work, you must first acquire your degree.* Many students pursue a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree to position them for a successful career in an impactful field. As MSW students decide which specialization is the best fit for their social work education, students are encouraged to explore the breadth of opportunities in medical social work. Take the next step toward a successful and fulfilling career by understanding some common information about specializing in medical social work.

What is Medical Social Work?

Social workers will help people and societal institutions to overcome economic, social, and other obstacles to health and healthcare and eliminate preventable health disparities. As the CDC suggests, this requires ongoing societal efforts to:

  • Address historical and contemporary injustices;
  • Overcome economic, social, and other obstacles to health and healthcare; and
  • Eliminate preventable health disparities

Because of this, social workers are uniquely prepared with a person-in-environment lens and there are ample opportunities for medical social workers to intervene in individuals, families, communities, health systems and public policy levels. Medical social workers are essential members of treatment teams and well-suited for improving health equity and addressing healthcare disparities. 

Medical social work uses evidence-based intervention strategies depending on the client context and setting, such as crisis intervention, clinical biopsychosocial, cultural, and spiritual assessment, and trauma-informed and focused clinical approaches with individuals, families, groups, communities, and organizations within the healthcare service delivery system. 

What Do Medical Social Workers Do?

Medical social workers may manage a variety of key responsibilities. They can, at any time:

  • Navigate the healthcare system on the patient’s behalf
  • Assess and monitor mental health
  • Plan discharges and aftercare transitions
  • Communicate with other professional medical staff about patient needs
  • Help patients and families with unfamiliar situations
  • Provide resources and referrals for solutions to patient/family challenges.

They also often work closely with other healthcare professionals to coordinate the nonmedical aspects of a patient's care. 

What Makes the Medical Social Work Specialization Unique?

In addition to the generalist education in clinical social work, the medical social work specialization focuses on understanding medical diagnoses and engaging in integrative health systems in the context of a person-in-environment perspective that is essential to promoting the best patient outcomes. 

Where Are Medical Social Workers Employed?

Medical social workers are employed in a variety of settings. These settings could include hospitals, community clinics, rehabilitation centers, home-care services, mental health organizations, long-term care facilities, palliative care facilities, outpatient care centers or public health organizations. 

Do Medical Social Workers Need a License?* 

Although not required for many medical positions, social work licensure can be an invaluable support to patients in integrative settings where patients have comorbid health and mental health challenges and benefit from psychotherapy and behavioral health diagnoses. Clinical licensure for social workers varies by state, but like other clinical social work specializations, medical social workers will be educationally prepared to obtain licensure. 

How Can I Get Started?

If you’re ready to discover the benefits of a career in medical social work firsthand, now is the perfect time to start. The Herzing University clinical medical social work curriculum prepares MSW students to effectively conduct multidimensional clinical assessments, understand theories of human behavior, integrate behavioral health, trauma, poverty, and diversity, and apply this knowledge to overall health and well-being. Enroll today.

*Individuals considering the Master of Social Work program should be aware that state certification/ licensure requirements and eligibility to apply for certification/licensure vary from state to state. While certification/licensure is not a requirement for certain types of jobs, in some states, it may be required for any positions titled ‘Social Worker’ and to refer to yourself as a Social Worker in professional settings.

Learn More About Our Master of Social Work Program


* Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics 2023 / Occupational Outlook Handbook 2022. BLS estimates do not represent entry-level wages and/or salaries. Multiple factors, including prior experience, age, geography market in which you want to work and degree field, will affect career outcomes and earnings. Herzing neither represents that its graduates will earn the average salaries calculated by BLS for a particular job nor guarantees that graduation from its program will result in a job, promotion, salary increase or other career growth.

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