What Do Hospital Social Workers Do?

A hospital social worker talks with a patient and their partner.
A hospital social worker talks with a patient and their partner.

A well functioning healthcare system is an essential part of everyday life. As a vital part of that system, hospital social workers provide nonmedical assistance to patients and their families and support network. Counseling patients on their health, connecting them with resources to transition to home care and guiding them in the insurance processes, hospital social workers take some of the guesswork out of healthcare for patients. 

Earning a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) can be a key part of finding success and providing quality assistance to patients. With the right resources, hospital social workers can make all the difference in the lives of their patients and promote positive care outcomes. 

Hospital Social Worker Job Description 

Hospital social workers collaborate with other healthcare professionals to ensure that patients have the support and guidance they need for recovery. This support can come in the form of evaluating a patient’s mental health and providing them and their family with counseling, educating patients on their medical conditions and treatment plans, assisting with the financial and insurance aspects of care and referring patients to the resources or medical professionals they need. 

Working in healthcare organizations ranging from hospitals to clinics, private practices, community organizations and government agencies, social workers provide patients and their families with counseling, education and resources to manage their care.

Hospital Social Worker Salary and Career Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), healthcare social workers earned a median annual salary of $60,280 as of May 2021. 

The BLS predicts that healthcare occupations will grow 13% between 2021 and 2031, double the national average for all occupations. As a profession that not only provides key services on its own but also supports other healthcare professions, the field of social work is vital to enabling the growth and stability of our healthcare system.

How to Become a Hospital Social Worker

Pursuing a career as a hospital social worker requires graduates to build a strong foundation in both the practical elements of social work and knowledge of the healthcare system. To ensure they are providing patients with the appropriate counseling and care resources throughout their healthcare journey, social workers must hone a wide ranging set of skills and in-depth experience. 

For most, the path begins with a bachelor’s degree in social work or a related field. Some may choose to enter the workforce with a bachelor’s degree, but many opt for an advanced degree such as a Master of Social Work (MSW). To gain practical workplace experience, many prospective students look for programs that integrate internships into their curricula, allowing them to build hands-on skills and complete the fieldwork hours required for their degree. 

In many states, there are also licensure requirements to practice as a hospital social worker, such as the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) examination and experience working under the supervision of a licensed clinician. Graduates must learn the licensure requirements of their state, ensuring they earn the education and certifications they need to reach their goals. 

Hospital Social Worker: Core Skills 

What hospital social workers do requires a diverse set of skills and qualities. Acting in a role that is part healthcare, part administration and part counseling, skilled hospital social workers are multi-talented. Some of the core skills required for hospital social workers include: 

  • Communication: Providing effective counseling, assessing the health of patients and coordinating with other professionals all require strong communication skills. A balancing act between listening, speaking and nonverbal cues and communicating with others effectively allows social workers to build a professional and respectful connection with their patients, better informing them about the care services they need. 
  • Patience and compassion: Seeking healthcare services can coincide with some of the most stressful and challenging events in a client’s life. Confronting and managing these challenges can be incredibly difficult, requiring time, counseling and an investment in both medical treatments and a balanced self-care routine. By offering patience and compassion, social workers can provide their patients much needed support while they are most vulnerable and instill them with confidence in their care. 
  • Organization and administrative skills: Hospital social work involves assessing the care services that patients need and helping them access them. This coordination necessitates that social workers act in a managerial and administrative capacity, which requires strong time management and organizational skills. 
  • Discretion and understanding: Healthcare is an industry that requires professionalism and discretion. Hospital social workers must protect their patients’ privacy and medical records by following the law, respecting the rights of their patients and ensuring patients provide consent prior to disclosing any information or undergoing any procedure.

Seeking healthcare can be a challenging and often intimidating process for many patients. Assisting patients throughout their care journey can be difficult and requires patience and understanding from social workers. However, when hospital social workers can build a rapport with patients and provide them with the resources they need, they are also able to share in their patient’s joy and recovery, knowing they played a key role in their success. 

Make a Meaningful Impact as a Hospital Social Worker

Hospitals and healthcare facilities only function with the dedication and cooperation of a host of skilled professionals. Providing support and guidance to patients, hospital social workers are a key part of the healthcare ecosystem, ensuring that patients receive the care resources they need to succeed. 

An online BSW from Spring Arbor University offers graduates a foundation in the knowledge and skills required to play an active role in healthcare. With an integrated internship, small class sizes, experienced educators and a Christ-centered focus on learning, the bachelor’s program from Spring Arbor University was designed to prepare you for the real world. 

Discover how you can make a positive difference in the lives of others as a hospital social worker. 

Recommended Readings

Self-Care for Social Workers: 10 Tips for Optimal Wellness

Top 15 States with Demand for Social Workers

The Three Types of Friendships


Houston Chronicle, “What Does a Social Worker Do?”

Indeed, “How to Become a Hospital Social Worker (With Skills)”

Indeed, “What Does a Hospital Social Worker Do? (With Specialties)”

Resources for Employers, Hospital Social Worker Job Description

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Healthcare Occupations

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Healthcare Social Workers