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Healthcare Social Worker: Career and Salary Overview


Social workers help people overcome challenges in everyday life by connecting them with helpful resources. Clinical social workers can also provide therapeutic treatment options. Because healthcare social workers may diagnose patients and offer therapy, they need a master's degree and license to practice.

Social workers fulfill a specific role in the healthcare industry. Healthcare social workers help clients access resources related to health concerns. They may also assess and diagnose patients, especially in terms of mental and behavioral health. Clinical social workers can also offer psychotherapy.

However, these professionals often take on responsibilities beyond those core duties. They manage cases, engage with families, provide advance care planning, sort out hospice or end-of-life care, and facilitate crisis intervention, to name just a few examples. These social workers often work alongside multiple practitioners outside of the healthcare field.

Social workers in general make a median annual salary of $50,470, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Healthcare workers in particular often bring in higher earnings, enjoying a median annual wage of $56,750.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does a healthcare social worker make an hour?

The median hourly pay rate for healthcare social workers equaled about $24.26 an hour in 2019. However, multiple factors can influence a professional's earning potential, including their location, industry, and years of experience.

Where do healthcare social workers work?

Social workers specializing in healthcare can work in many different job environments. They find employment at hospitals, ambulatory healthcare services, nursing homes, or rehabilitation centers. They also work at mental health facilities. Healthcare workers often spend time visiting their clients, too, and some of their duties may occur at clients' homes.

How long does it take to become a healthcare social worker?

Individuals must complete several years of education and work experience to become a licensed clinical healthcare worker. Candidates must earn both an accredited bachelor's degree and a master's degree in social work. These programs traditionally last four and two years, respectively. Master's degree-holders then complete at least two years of supervised work experience. In total, it takes eight years to become a healthcare social worker.

Is a healthcare social worker a mandated reporter?

Yes. Healthcare social workers must report any suspected child abuse or neglect. In fact, these professionals have a legal obligation to make such reports. Other professionals, such as teachers, law enforcement, and child care providers, also possess the same legal obligation.

Top Paying Industries for Healthcare Social Workers

Health social workers' salaries differ based on various factors, such as field and location. Computer systems design is the top-paying industry, offering a mean annual wage of $73,880. That said, very few healthcare social workers actually find employment in that industry.

More popular well-paying industries include religious organizations, junior colleges, general medical and surgical hospitals, and ambulatory healthcare services. Healthcare social workers employed in these industries enjoy mean annual earnings of $65,080-$72,730.

Top Paying States for Healthcare Social Workers

Location also impacts employment opportunities and salaries. States with the highest concentrations of healthcare social workers include Massachusetts, Missouri, Indiana, New Mexico, and Tennessee. However, health social workers do not necessarily make the highest salaries in these states, where annual mean wages range from $47,380- $61,650.

Healthcare social workers enjoy an annual mean wage of $79,620 in California, the top-paying state for the profession. Washington, D.C. and Oregon follow, with social workers in healthcare settings bringing home mean salaries of just over $74,000 a year. Finally, health social workers earned mean annual wages of almost $73,000 in Connecticut and about $72,640 in Nevada.

Top Paying Metropolitan Areas for Healthcare Social Workers

Employment and earning opportunities also vary within states. New York and Los Angeles employ the most health social workers in the United States.

Four cities in Massachusetts boast the highest concentration of healthcare social workers: New Bedford, Springfield, Pittsfield, and the Leominster-Gardner metro area. Jackson, Tennessee, also ranks in the top five metro areas for health social worker employment concentration.

The highest-paying city for healthcare social workers was the Vallejo-Fairfield, California metro area. These professionals draw an annual mean salary of $90,120. The other top-paying cities for health social workers are also located in California: San Jose, Salinas, San Francisco, Napa, and Fresno.

Salary and Job Growth for Healthcare Social Workers

A report from the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) notes that healthcare social workers face some challenges, including a shortage of social work effectiveness data and ongoing changes in the healthcare industry. Still, the BLS projects that the number of social work positions will increase by 13% from 2019-29, adding 90,700 jobs to the industry.

Healthcare social workers are likely to see their profession continue to grow. An aging American population means that more people must adjust to new treatments and ways of living, and health social workers help older clients with exactly these difficulties. Additionally, with more people covered under the Affordable Care Act, health social workers must help patients for whom old age remains far away.

Under these conditions, clinical social workers likely face brighter job prospects than social workers who cannot offer therapy. You can read more about social work careers here and salaries for this growing industry here.

How to Become a Healthcare Social Worker

Healthcare social workers must dedicate considerable time to their studies before beginning their careers. Aspiring social workers in any field need a bachelor's degree in social work, which traditionally lasts four years for full-time students.

Clinical social workers follow that with a master of social work (MSW) program, during which students choose a specialization and practice their clinical skills in a controlled environment. A graduate program usually lasts two years. Some schools offer accelerated degrees to speed up this process.

Social workers must be licensed to provide clinical services. To obtain licensure, candidates usually need to complete two years of supervised work experience after earning their MSW.

In addition, many healthcare social workers pursue the certified social worker in healthcare (C-SWHC) credential from NASW.

Licensure and Certification Requirements

Clinical social workers are officially known as licensed clinical social workers (LCSW). While the specific requirements for social work licensure vary by state, LCSW candidates typically need a master's degree and at least two years of postgraduate supervised work experiences. Some states may require three years.

Healthcare social workers do not necessarily need the C-SWHC certification to practice, but it can strengthen their credibility and help them find employment. To earn this credential, candidates must possess a MSW, complete two years or 3,000 hours of supervised postgraduate work experience, and hold an active level social work license from their state.