If you read the post Another Whirlwind Weekend, you know that I was in Wilkesboro recently with Derek’s family. My sisters-in-law are both in high school, and they’re starting to think about what they want to do in the future. Fortunately, they’re both smart, compassionate young women who will have many different options and opportunities. Over the weekend they both asked me about my work, and I realized that I’ve never given a more in-depth explanation of medical social work on Brown is the New Pink. So here goes nothing!
What is medical social work?
Medical social work is a sub-discipline of social work that focuses on psychosocial factors and how they affect individuals’ health.
Where do medical social workers work?
Many medical social workers work in hospitals, but some also work in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and home health or hospice agencies.
Are there subspecialties of medical social work?
Yes. Similar to physician specialties, medical social workers can specialize in nephrology, oncology, surgery, obstetrics, infectious disease, palliative care, or intensive care. However, many social workers, like myself, work in general medicine.
What do medical social workers do?
- Assess the psychosocial functioning of patients and their support systems
- Assessment items typically include information about the patient’s living situation, social or family support, mental status, employment/education, etc.
- Provide clinical social work services such as supportive therapy for coping with illness, adjusting to losses, and developing a “new normal”
- Advocate for patients’ social, cultural, and religious preferences
- Work with an interdisciplinary team to develop a safe discharge plan
- Educate patients and their families about community health care resources
- Arrange post-hospital care at other facilities or at home
What role do medical social workers play on the interdisciplinary team?
Medical social workers typically work with an interdisciplinary teams with physicians, nurses, physical and occupational therapists, nutritionists, etc. The most important roles social workers play on the team are patient advocate and facilitator. Social workers value the ethical concept of self-determination and often advocate for patient decisions on treatment, goals of care, and discharge, even if the medical team does not agree with the decision. I frequently explain that while we may not agree with the person’s decision, they have the right to make the decision.
Medical social workers also serve as a facilitator by putting all of the individual pieces of information from different disciplines together. Because social workers are not involved in direct medical care, we have the luxury of being able to step back and put everything together to make sure all of the patient’s needs are met appropriately.
What does a typical day as a medical social worker include?
- Rounding with the interdisciplinary team to find out what is going on with each patient and determining their anticipated discharge plan
- Assessing new patients
- Meeting with patients to educate them on available resources
- Assisting patients with applying for financial assistance
- Making referrals to skilled nursing facilities or assisted living facilities
- Arranging home health services
- Assisting patients with completing advance directives and making end-of-life decisions
- Arranging or assisting with transportation
- Providing supportive therapy and emotional support related to coping with illness and/or end-of-life issues
- Meeting with other social workers to discuss difficult discharges
(Yes, my day is very busy 🙂 )
Thanks for reading! Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or want more information on medical social work or social work in general.