Social Workers – Jacks of All Trades

Whatever you think social workers do…there’s probably more to it

Back in our May Careers issue, we evaluated, described, and explained the 10 fastest-growing professions within the healthcare field. However, we realized that for a given definition of the term ‘healthcare’, we could have possibly expanded the list to 15 or so.

One occupation that we missed in that article was social work. With the increased emphasis on mental health and helping families through challenging times in our society, the need for social workers has never been clearer. This is reflected in the latest numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which predict that the next 8–10 years will see at least 16 percent growth in the number of qualified social workers—a figure that represents at least 100,000 new professionals joining the field.

If social work sounds intriguing to you, here are a few things to know about the field:

What Will I Do?

About half of all qualified social workers work in the child and family areas, protecting vulnerable children and offering aid to families in need of assistance. A comprehensive list of duties a social worker may fulfill include:

  • Identify people and communities in need of help
  • Assess clients’ needs, situations, strengths, and support networks to determine their goals
  • Help clients adjust to changes and challenges in their lives, such as illness, divorce, or unemployment
  • Research, refer, and advocate for community resources, such as food stamps, childcare, and healthcare to assist and improve a client’s well-being
  • Respond to crisis situations such as child abuse and mental health emergencies
  • Follow up with clients to ensure that their situations have improved
  • Maintain case files and records
  • Develop and evaluate programs and services to ensure that basic client needs are met
  • Provide psychotherapy services

Social workers are helping everyday people to cope with a range of challenges in their lives. They may also be called upon to advocate on behalf of their clients in a legal or healthcare environment.

Licensed clinical social workers (LCSW) are licensed to diagnose and treat mental, emotional, and behavioral issues by providing therapy, developing strategies for changing behavior or coping with difficult situations. They may work as part of a team with doctors and other professionals to develop a comprehensive plan for a vulnerable individual. It takes two years of supervised work to become a LCSW; those who are still in the process of completing that work are known as master’s social workers (MSW).

In summary, BLS sorts social workers into four main categories:

Child and family social workers protect vulnerable children and help families in need of assistance. They help families find housing or services, such as childcare, or apply for benefits, such as food stamps. They intervene when children are in danger of neglect or abuse. Some help arrange adoptions, locate foster families, or work to reunite families.

School social workers work with teachers, parents, and school administrators to develop plans and strategies to improve students’ academic performance and social development. Students and their families are often referred to social workers to deal with problems such as aggressive behavior, bullying, or frequent absences from school.

Healthcare social workers help patients understand their diagnosis and make the necessary adjustments to their lifestyle, housing, or healthcare. For example, they may help people make the transition from the hospital back to their homes and communities. In addition, they may provide information on services, such as home healthcare or support groups, to help patients manage their illness or disease. Social workers help doctors and other healthcare professionals understand the effects that diseases and illnesses have on patients’ mental and emotional health. Some healthcare social workers specialize in geriatric social work, hospice and palliative care, or medical social work.

Mental health and substance abuse social workers help clients with mental illnesses or addictions. They provide information on services, such as support groups and 12-step programs, to help clients cope with their illness. Many clinical social workers function in these roles as well.

Educational Requirements

Some social workers need only a bachelor’s degree to begin their careers, but clinical social workers will require a master’s degree plus the aforementioned two years of supervised field work.

BLS recommends contacting your specific state’s licensure board for details on licensing requirements.


According to BLS, the median annual wage for social workers was $47,980 as of May 2017. (This means half of all social workers earned more than $47,980, while the other half earned exactly that amount of less.) The lowest 10 percent earned less than $29,560, while the top 10 percent made over $79,740.

(And yes, the salaries tend to increase with education, as was the case in most professions we examined.)

These were the top earning industries for social workers as of May 2017, and their corresponding median salaries:

Hospitals; state, local, and private: $58,400
Local government (excluding education and hospitals): $52,900
Ambulatory healthcare services: $48,340
State government (excluding education and hospitals): $46,120
Individual and family services: $40,800

Most social workers are full-time employees. If you want a set, 9–5 schedule, this may not be the job for you—social workers are often ‘on call’ and can work evenings, weekends, and holidays.

Look for more information on social work in ADVANCE in the near future.

Are you a social worker looking for continuing education credit? Be sure to visit our CE site at

SOURCE: Bureau of Labor Statistics

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