What is a Health Care Social Worker

Health care social worker (also known as Medical Social Worker, Licensed Medical Social Worker, Clinical Medical Social Worker, Non-Clinical Medical Social Worker, Hospice Home Care Social Worker, Certified Social Workers In Health Care (C-SWHC), Hospital Social Worker or MSW) are healthcare providers responsible for helping people cope with diseases, illnesses, and disabilities. They educate patients about their conditions, teach lifestyle changes, provide psychological support, recommend medical services, plan hospital discharges, offer financial advises, and suggest support groups. Families of the clients also receive counseling, while the patient is hospitalized and after returning home. For more on job duties, please visit our medical social worker job description page.

Work Environment

Health care social workers spend most of their time in offices, hospitals, and residential facilities. The working conditions in these places are generally clean and safe. However, there is a risk of exposure to patients’ infectious diseases. This occupation entails some travel, as some clients may be in their homes while others are at multiple facilities

Work Schedule

Those entering the profession can expect to work full-time, 40-hour weeks. They could be called upon to provide their services during evening and weekend hours. Long shifts may result from the heavy demand for health care social workers and, in some areas, a shortage of them.

Mean Annual Health Care Social Worker Salary

The average annual health care social worker salary is $51,460. The mean salary is calculated by adding all the wages within the occupation and divid that value by the total number of employees. Lowest 10% of this occupation makes less than $31,410 and the top 10% makes over $74,030.

Health Care Social Worker Salary: Quick Summary

2012 Mean Salary$51,460 per year
$24.74 per hour
Top 10% Salary$74,030 per year
$35.59 per hour
Bottom 10% Salary$31,410 per year
$15.10 per hour
Number of Jobs, 2012140,000

Health Care Worker Job Outlook and Prospects

Projections vary, depending upon the source of information, but the number of positions available in this field nationwide is expected to increase 27 percent from 2012 to 2022. The major factor is the expanding elderly population. As more of the Baby Boom generation reaches their retirement years, the demand for many types of health-care services is likely to soar. Additional nursing homes and assisted-living facilities will mean many more jobs for health care social workers. Consequently, workers with experience in gerontology will have better job opportunities than others.

Health Social Worker Salary: Factors of Influence

Industry-specific aspects and geographic location are the main factors affecting health care social worker salary. With states offering a wide variety of salary potentials, and the great swath of possible job prospects, these two factors are the primary points for investigation, with education and experience closely following.

The national average for health care social worker salary is $51,460. However, based on the geographic area, this can vary by as much as $25,000; Puerto Rico, for instance, has an average wage of $26,880.

Though there is some potentiality for advancement in position, this is tied strongly to experience, and provides less salary increases than other factors.

Education and Specialization

To get an entry-level job, a two-year bachelor’s degree in social work, psychology, or sociology is typically required. Students are advised to make sure a degree program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.

Some employers seek those with master’s degrees in social work. Attaining this level of education takes two to four years of additional classwork, plus supervised residency training. Doctorate degrees further enhance the earnings potential.

Practitioners must complete a training program comprised of classwork, as well as 400 hours of field experience under the supervision of professional social workers. Clinical medical social workers, who hold advanced degrees, need to obtain state-issued licenses. One of the requirements for a license in many states is having completed two years, or 3,000 hours, of supervised work experience.

Due to the continuing increase in the senior-citizen population, health care social workers may be wise to specialize in gerontology or elder care. Older people need help coping with chronic and terminal illnesses. The National Association of Social Workers offers three credentials and seven specialties for social-work degree holders.


Slightly more than half of these social workers are employed in health care and social assistance. Nearly one-third work in hospitals. At last report, 31 percent were government employees. Other workplaces include medical clinics, family services agencies, hospices, nursing homes. assisted-living centers, and schools.

Some of the highest-paying positions are in medical and surgical hospitals. Psychiatric and substance-abuse hospitals offer somewhat lower salaries. Home health care services are next on the list, in terms of wages; followed by local government and nursing-care facilities. Receiving the lowest salaries in the field are practitioners employed by organizations that provide individual and family services.


Because the majority of the jobs are in urban areas, most health care social workers live in cities and suburbs. The demand for their services is not limited to any region, but may be greater in places with large elderly populations.

According to the government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, the most positions in this field (12,880) in May 2012 were to be found in California. Next were Massachusetts, 10,920; New York, 10,750; Texas, 8,120; and Pennsylvania, 7,690. The top metropolitan areas, in terms of the number of health care social worker jobs, were New York City, Boston, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Chicago.

The same report noted that the highest average salaries were in the District of Columbia, $66,130; Nevada, $64,640; California, $63,480; Connecticut, $60,830; and Rhode Island, $59,910.

Health Care Social Worker Salary: Top 5

Top Paying Metropolitan AreasTop Paying StatesTop Paying IndustriesStates with Highest Employment Level
Sherman-Denison, TX: $76,570District of Columbia: $66,130Specialty Hospitals: $61,750California: (12,880 jobs) $63,480
Napa, CA: $76,210Nevada: $64,640Employment Services: $60,160Massachusetts: (10,920 jobs) $55,140
Vallejo-Fairfield, CA: $76,060California: $63,480General Medical and Surgical Hospitals: $56,960New York: (10,750 jobs) $55,890
Hanford-Corcoran, CA: $74,330Connecticut: $60,830Colleges, Universities and Professional Schools: $56,500Texas: (8,120 jobs) $54,340
Danbury, CT: $71,240Rhode Island: $59,910Scientific Research and Development Services: $56,050Pennsylvania: (7,960 jobs) $46,680

health care social worker salary state by state