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Exploring the Opportunities and Responsibilities of a Social Worker in Healthcare

Exploring the Opportunities and Responsibilities of a Social Worker in Healthcare

Healthcare and social work are two intricate and important aspects that are necessary for building the foundations of any society. In fact, in a lot of scenarios, they are often indistinguishable parts of each other as well. This is precisely why social workers have a whole range of job opportunities in healthcare. Given the nature of social work, it comes with certain responsibilities to society, and while working in healthcare, those adhering to those responsibilities become even more important. Stay with us as we explore those opportunities and certain important responsibilities of social workers in healthcare.

Social Work in Gerontology

Gerontology is the medical study of seniors and their various health issues, targeted towards figuring out solutions to gerontological problems that can originate from both the body and mind. There is already huge demand for social workers in this section, but that demand is going to grow over the course of the next decade.

In accordance with the reports published by the U.S. Administration on Aging, the number of senior citizens who will be 65 or older by 2030, is expected to be anything between 19-20% of the country’s total population at that time. It will consequently also increase the number of seniors who will need gerontological care from social workers, making it a lucrative segment of healthcare to consider.

More social work professionals will be needed to help the aging citizens get accustomed to the changes happening to their body, mind, lifestyle, environment, living conditions, etc. The general idea behind gerontological social work involves improving the lives of aging citizens by understanding their health problems and conflicts with the present society/culture around them, and providing acceptable aids and solutions accordingly. Being social workers, they also work towards supporting the seniors in staying safe against common dangers from abusive family members and potential scammers.

In the 80+ age category, the need for social workers is at its highest right now, and will continue to grow in demand. In this segment particularly, and also in gerontological social work as a whole, their deep understanding of the physical and mental issues that are plaguing the senior citizen is proven to be crucial for bridging patient-doctor gaps.

Social Work in Public Health

Also referred to as medical social work, this is when the social worker becomes a part of the healthcare industry. Common workplaces of the medical social worker will include the following:

  • Hospitals, ER, nursing homes and hospices
  • Community/public healthcare centers
  • Community/public wellness centers
  • Medical rehabilitation facilities for substance abusers
  • Assisted living facilities, senior care centers, homecare centers, etc.

The roles played by the social worker in public health settings will vary in accordance with the workplace and the particular social worker’s educational/professional qualifications.

As far as those roles are concerned though, the following points should be sufficient in providing a decent introduction to the kind of work a public health social worker has to do on the job:

  • Helping with insurance/medical paperwork
  • Suggestive roles in decision-making for choosing a course of treatment
  • Conveying of messages to and from doctors and nurses
  • Advocating patient rights for the clients
  • Keeping a watchful eye on the treatment of their clients within a healthcare facility
  • Counseling clients against depression and anxiety in trying times
  • Spreading public awareness regarding general healthcare and potential health threats

Social Work in Psychiatry

This is not that different from medical social work, and in many ways, it can be considered a part of that. However, there are some clear distinctions between the two job roles, although the similarities are certainly there as well.

The main difference between the two kinds of social work is in involvement. Mental health or psychiatric social workers are more directly involved in the treatment process itself than medical/public health workers. While the former’s role often involves understanding, diagnosing and even addressing psychiatric issues of their clients directly, the latter largely performs roles outside direct treatment.

This is why completing graduation through an accredited Masters of Social Work online program will make a big difference in pay and available job opportunities for social workers in psychiatric healthcare. It is one of the highest paid sectors of social work as a whole, and the graduation degree is a necessity for those willing to work in the higher ranks of this segment.

Some of the many roles which social workers undertake in the psych ward, or even while the client is in home care, include the following:

  • Assessment of the client’s mental health and disorders
  • Qualified social workers may even be able to diagnose the disorders
  • Development of treatment plans with the aid of healthcare professionals
  • Helping clients manage the effects of their mental health disorders
  • Determining whether the client needs admitting or assisted-living facilities

The job opportunities of a mental health social worker span across multiple facilities such as psych wards, mental hospitals, community centers for mental health and wellbeing, general hospitals, and even the private office of a therapist or psychiatrist.

Social Work in Hospices

Unfortunately, not everyone can be saved and for them, a hospice bed is often their last resting place in life. Hospices house cancer patients and other terminally ill patients who are past treatment, and are highly unlikely to live past the six-month mark.

Social workers who work in such settings have a grave but noble undertaking that involves end-of-life caregiving. The duties are diverse and multidirectional, but at its core, a hospice social worker does everything he/she can to make the last few months of the patient as comfortable and as happy as possible. It often involves working closely with direct care medical professionals.

Social Work in Palliative Care

Palliative care is quite similar to hospice care, but it differs in the fact that palliative care is not just limited to terminal patients, but also patients suffering from chronic, incurable pain. The job of social workers in palliative care is quite similar to the roles they play in a hospice, which is to do anything and everything in their power to reduce the intensity of the chronic pain and make their lives as comfortable as possible.

Social Work in Substance Abuse Treatment and Rehabilitation

Substance abusers include recreational/prescription drug addicts and alcoholics mainly, but they could also work in addiction centers that deal with other types of addictions.

A social worker working with addicts could very well be limited to working in drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers, but being a social worker, their jobs and clients may also turn the following into their workplaces:

  • Juvenile detention centers
  • Troubled youth centers
  • Foster care facilities and families
  • Penal institutions such as jails, adult detention centers and prisons
  • Community and religious community centers
  • Public healthcare centers and homeless shelters

The actual job of the social workers will vary in this segment, depending on the kind of addiction they are working with, the age and history of the client, their own qualifications for handling the case, and several other factors. Nonetheless, the tasks can still be categorized as the following:

  • Counselling the addicted individuals
  • Determining the underlying causes (physical & sexual abuse, depression, anxiety, etc.) for the addiction
  • Diagnosing the addictions as such, alongside the mental health problems contributing to the addictive tendencies
  • Treating or devising a treatment plan for the underlying causes, and a rehabilitation program suited for addressing the abuse
  • Monitoring of clients and social group members to prevent relapses
  • Looking after the client’s present and future wellbeing
  • Working towards improving the client’s lifestyle and quality of living, post rehabilitation

Duties and Responsibilities of a Social Care Worker

Now that we have covered a majority of the most lucrative job opportunities in the healthcare industry that a social worker has to look forward to, let’s now take a brief look at the responsibilities which all social workers should adhere to, irrespective of their chosen career path.

Generalized as these maybe, all of them play key roles in determining the potentials for any social project’s true success.

Client/Patient Interest Advocacy

If we were talking about social work in general, this would still be one of the prior responsibilities to undertake, but as we are discussing medical and mental patients, addicted individuals and helpless seniors among other vulnerable groups, client advocacy is a very important responsibility that a concerned social worker should prioritize even more.

Whether you are trying to prevent an elderly client from returning to an abusive household, or trying to present a case against imprisonment of a mental health patient, conviction is a necessary responsibility of a social worker in the healthcare setting.

Kindness and Good Behavior is of Utmost Importance

Given that your clients will almost always be vulnerable for different reasons, treating them with kindness is crucial to make headway in building rapport and getting your point across. It would be difficult to act as a medical-social liaison if the client isn’t even ready to trust you. Patients suffer from low self-esteem, low confidence and depression at times, even when they might act in a completely opposite manner. As a professional, it’s your responsibility to identify it and act in accordance.

You must always be respectful and patient, as it’s as much a job-related responsibility as it is a necessity for carrying out the work that you are supposed to in the first place. It may prove to be particularly hard at times, given that your clients will often be troubled and ill individuals, but that’s part of the job description here. This is one of the many reasons why a crash course in counsellor’s training could be invaluable in dealing with such scenarios, without letting any of it affect you personally, or your professional responsibilities to the clients.

Education and Information is a Client Right

A large part of a healthcare social worker’s job is to educate the clients or the community groups about the various dangers, causes, reasons, treatments, options, etc. pertaining to the specific social improvement project.

As a social care worker in the segment, it is your responsibility to be comprehensive in delivering the information and education which is relevant to the job or project that you are working on. There are limits to what a social care worker really can do beyond suggesting and educating, but those that are relying on him/her for the information’s accuracy shouldn’t be let down. If it isn’t sincere and comprehensive, the project will fail.

Interventions are Both a Social Worker’s Tools and Responsibilities

As previously mentioned, there is a limit to what a social worker can or cannot do to help their community/clients/patients, but as long as they know how to use timely interventions responsibly, that limit may not be reached so easily. Consider the example below to understand the concept at play here.

Indirect intervention is a strategy where the social worker introduces a seemingly unconnected event into the mix, that is in reality, connected to the social worker’s true goals. An example of this would be when a social worker working within a rural community decides to give a small presentation or conduct an event focused on the positive effects of a proper diet. Indirectly, they might be trying to reduce the intake of a particular dietary choice (such as excess red meat) from the community as a whole.

It’s a popular method that works by highlighting the positive outcomes of the same process, rather than focusing on the negative elements of not making the move. Such methods are still effectively used in many of the rural sections with great results, but they can just as well be used to get a positive reaction from a single, elderly patient who refuses to eat properly.

Social work is a career choice that people usually make when they want to help others as well as building a career, rather than when they are interested in just the latter. This is also a key reason why they fit into the healthcare setting so well. Be it a psych ward or a geriatric care facility, it’s a segment that’s filled with people who need active help from qualified professionals who can act as liaisons between healthcare professionals and themselves.


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