Social workers in healthcare roles work to ensure that all citizens have access to quality healthcare. On an individual level, social workers may assist clients to find medical providers, travel to and from appointments, arrange insurance coverage and payment for their care, and follow up on recovery.  In the public health field, specialists are focused on targeting particular health issues in the community, providing programs and staff to prevent and find solutions to these issues.

Public health social workers have the opportunity to bring about positive change on a broad scale, attacking the root cause of health issues through a variety of methods. Social workers in the healthcare industry work toward the same positive change, but with individuals whose treatment and future outlook may be significantly impacted by the presence and care of a social worker.

Typical Roles and Responsibilities of Social Workers in Public Health

Healthcare social workers handle many aspects of patient care, including:

  • Finding appropriate healthcare providers and specialists
  • Scheduling appointments and transportation
  • Submitting insurance documentation or figuring out payment options
  • Ensuring that patients are recovering well

In public health, social workers are responsible for:

  • Assessing community health concerns and finding areas for improvement
  • Networking with various specialists and professionals in the community
  • Developing prevention, education, and treatment programs
  • Overseeing progress toward improvement and greater community health

While healthcare social workers are often employed privately, by hospitals and other health agencies, public health social workers may work with local or state governments. Together, these types of social workers are unified in their goal of improving health outcomes for all individuals within the community.

Average Salary

Jobs in hospitals are among the most prevalent and highly paid for healthcare social workers. The average annual wage is nearly $60,000 in these settings.  Public health social workers on average earn around $44,000 per year.

Education & Experience Requirements

A bachelor’s or master’s in social work (as well as social work licensure) is an important qualifier for a career as a medical social worker. Public health professionals may possess several different kinds of degrees – a master of public health or master of social work degree, for example – depending on their intended area of expertise.  An MSW with an emphasis on macro practice (social work at the community level) is an excellent choice for a social worker in the public health field.

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