Medical social worker
Social Service & Guidance

Medical social workers help people to cope when they are ill, or are caring for sick friends or relatives. They give practical advice on the financial, social and emotional difficulties people may face.

Work Activities

Medical social workers give support and advice to help people cope when they are ill, or are caring for sick friends or relatives.

For many people, an accident or the sudden appearance of a medical condition causes anxiety and confusion. People are also likely to be concerned about their future circumstances. Medical social workers provide practical aid for such people, to help them adjust to, and come to terms with, their new situation.

This practical help can include:

  • offering counselling
  • assessing social care needs
  • advising on any benefits that are available
  • organising relevant services, eg, home care.

At their first meeting with a patient, the medical social worker will find out what their personal needs are. Based on their assessments, they make sure the client has all the support and services they need to be discharged safely.

Medical social workers are responsible for arranging all the support services their clients might need. For example, they arrange local authority services such as:

  • visits by a home care assistant
  • the delivery of meals
  • the fitting of special aids and adaptations (eg, devices to help people get in and out of the bath).

Social workers also liaise with housing departments and benefit offices, if relevant, making sure that clients receive all the social security benefits they are entitled to. If a client needs long-term support, the medical social worker will refer them to the local area social work team.

Medical social workers also help the patient's relatives. For example, parents might need temporary accommodation if their child is in a special hospital far from home.

Social workers can give advice on social security benefits to the parents of a child with a disability. They can also give practical advice on how to help them care for their child at home.

Most medical social workers are employed in hospitals, but they also work in health care centres, GPs' surgeries, and special clinics (eg, HIV or AIDS clinics).

Hospital-based social workers are members of assessment teams. They work closely with other professionals, including consultants, nurses, physiotherapists and occupational therapists. The team discusses the client's condition and the type and level of support they are likely to need when they leave hospital.

Medical social workers may also investigate a client's social background. This includes looking for factors that could have led to their ill health, and finding out if their background will present them with any problems when they leave hospital.

The social worker might discover that social factors, like unemployment, inadequate housing, financial problems, or a drug or alcohol dependency, have contributed to a client's illness. These factors could delay the client's recovery or make it likely that they will need further medical care in the future.

Personal Qualities and Skills

  • Listen carefully and empathise when necessary.
  • Ask the right questions to find out about clients' needs.
  • Gain the trust of people from all kinds of backgrounds.
  • Be flexible and adaptable.
  • Assess needs and circumstances.
  • Communicate clearly, both orally and in writing.
  • Gather, analyse and understand information.
  • Be observant, read situations and identify problems.
  • Be non-judgemental and avoid imposing solutions.
  • Act quickly and calmly.
  • Work through conflict sensitively and come up with effective solutions.
  • Work well under pressure.
  • Have a positive attitude when you are faced with difficulties.
  • Make difficult decisions at times.
  • Strong negotiation skills.
  • Good team skills, to work closely with other health professionals.
  • Resilience, so you don't become burdened by the problems you encounter.
  • The ability to manage and prioritise your own workload.
  • The IT skills required to produce reports.
  • Knowledge and understanding of the local resources available to help the people you work with.
  • To be open to suggestions for how the service you provide can be improved.
  • The ability to face the emotional and intellectual demands of the job.

Travel throughout the local area may be needed, therefore a full driving licence can be a requirement of the job.

Pay And Opportunities

Typical employers of medical social workers

Opportunities for medical social workers occur in hospitals and community settings throughout the UK.

Medical social workers work in hospital specialist wards, such as maternity or geriatrics, or in general practices, clinics and day centres.

Employers include the NHS and local authority social service departments.

Qualifications

Entry requirements for degrees vary so it is important to check with individual universities.

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