In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, doctors, nurses, and other medical staff gained immense respect and admiration from the public. We hailed them as heroes because they put their lives on the line and served humanity. But we neglected to acknowledge the sacrifices made by another essential part of the health care team, the social workers. These unsung heroes worked from behind the scenes to help alleviate the financial, social, and psychological burdens the patients and their families faced.
But what exactly do social workers in the health care system do? Just how impactful can their services be? And how can you take up this noble and rewarding profession? In this article, we’ll answer all these questions and more.
Before we jump on to the role of social workers in healthcare, here’s what you need to know about taking up this noble profession.
Educational requirements and Career prospects
Social workers in the health care system are closely involved with the patients and their families, sometimes from diagnosis to recovery or even death. They directly affect the well-being and recovery of their client and must be well-qualified to handle these responsibilities. A bachelor’s degree in social work is the minimum qualification. Still, a master’s degree in social work can propel your career to heights, drastically increase your chances of employment and provide a substantial increase in income. Many prestigious universities worldwide now offer an online masters in social work degree so you don’t have to leave your hometown for the best education. Medical social work is a continually growing field, and there is no lack of opportunity. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected an employment growth rate of 13% for social workers from 2019-29, which is higher than employment estimates for other fields. While the hours are challenging and often exhausting, the work one does as a social worker is rewarding both financially and emotionally. Social workers help people in their most vulnerable states and play a vital role in their recovery.
Here are just some of the roles a social worker plays in helping patients and the healthcare system.
Assess the patient’s needs
Social workers obtain a detailed history of their client’s ailments and treatments from their doctors, nurses, and family members. Then, they develop a personalized plan to help the patient on their road to recovery and convey the information to the appropriate healthcare professionals to start the next stage of the treatment. Additionally, they help the client find long-term support, such as counseling and physical therapy.
Many patients believe that the safeguard of having a team of qualified individuals looking after them disappears as soon as they are discharged. This leaves them anxious and needing clarification about what to do next. Social workers are well-equipped to deal with such problems. They can work with insurance companies to sort out any authorizations for timely discharge and post-acute care needs. Moreover, they can arrange follow-up visits with primary care providers and set up community resources, providing basic needs such as shelter, clothing, and food to clients who can’t afford them.
Educating patients and their families
Hospital stays going on for longer than expected, complicated treatment plans or sudden changes in treatment plans can be frightening for patients and their families. This is where social workers step in and educate the client and their families, answering their questions, alleviating their concerns, and stamping out any confusion or fear. This not only makes the patient more compliant but also increases their confidence in the healthcare provider and treatment plan.
The cost of prescription drugs can increase over time, putting a significant financial burden on patients and their families. Social workers have to find workarounds, such as less expensive versions of the prescribed medicines, to help ease these financial burdens. Furthermore, they need to ensure that the patient gets the correct dosage for the appropriate duration to prevent further complications.
Counseling and resource management
Social workers can arrange individual or group counseling sessions within the community to help patients and their families cope with the side effects of treatments. They can lead support groups to facilitate recovery and bring together patients who have experienced a particular treatment to guide those who will undergo it. In addition, social workers are well aware of hospital resources that may benefit their clients and help them gain access to these resources.
Prerequisites skills to become a social worker
Empathy is one of the most defining characteristics of a social worker in the health care system. Having excellent communication and problem-solving skills while being an active listener is just as vital. In addition, a social worker must be well organized and be able to collaborate with other healthcare professionals to serve their clients best. From explaining the treatment to ironing out problems in the discharge process, a social worker operates on all fronts to alleviate any issues their client may face and make their hospital stay and recovery at home as stress-free as possible.
Social workers play an immense role in our healthcare system. They help their clients not only during their treatment but throughout their recovery as well. From obtaining copies of medical records and information on treatment costs to obtaining second opinions and even investigating child abuse or neglect, social workers help improve lives in various spheres. All these crucial duties fall under the wings of social service providers, and patients would be lost in the muddled waters of the healthcare system without these shining beacons to guide them.