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How to Become a Clinical Social Worker in the US

Have you always wanted to work in a caring profession? Do you like the idea of helping people navigate life’s challenges? If so, you might be perfect for a career as a clinical social worker.

What do clinical social workers do?

Clinical social workers work directly with patients, most often helping them navigate the treacherous waters of health crises: illness, accidents, addiction, aging, etc. Common tasks include:

  • Establishing trusting relationships with patients and their families
  • Taking thorough patient histories, including social, personal, environmental and health factors
  • Explaining diagnoses, treatment options, insurance, etc., to patients and their families
  • Helping patients and their families deal with the psychosocial aspects of illness, accidents, aging, etc.
  • Devising treatment plans and evaluating their effectiveness
  • Working with families who have a child with a long-term or terminal illness
  • Putting patients and their families in touch with appropriate social services
  • Advocating for families to help them obtain needed services
  • Helping families find a spot in a long-term care facility for a family member who won’t be able to return to independent living

 Where and when do clinical social workers work?

  • Clinical social workers may work in hospitals, residential treatment facilities, rehabilitation centers, schools, or public services as well as in private practice.
  • Hours may vary depending on the employer. Hospitals frequently have a social worker on staff 24/7, so some night and weekend hours may be required. Clinical social workers who are in private practice can set their own hours, and many choose to be available when their patients need them.

 What do clinical social workers earn? 


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What skills do clinical social workers need?

  • Empathy
  • Patience
  • The ability to connect with patients and earn their trust
  • The ability to work alone and as part of a team
  • Excellent listening skills
  • Good communication skills
  • The ability to juggle multiple patients with different needs and treatment plans
  • Knowledge of services available in the local community
  • Ability to build relationships with other members of the healthcare community

 What education and training are required?

  • Clinical social workers need at least a master’s degree in clinical social work, and many employers require a doctoral degree.
  • A supervised clinical internship
  • At least two years of post-graduate supervised field experience
  • A state license (requirements vary by state)

What are the professional development opportunities?

It’s imperative for clinical social workers to keep up with new developments in their field so that they can:

  • Understand and implement new diagnostic and treatment techniques
  • Understand new governmental regulations and how those regulations affect their practice
  • Keep up with demographic trends (like an aging population) and understand how those trends affect their work

Clinical social workers can keep up with the latest developments through classroom-based courses, online courses, and conferences. One of the best ways clinical social workers can stay on top of their game is by participating in one or more professional organizations:

What is the job outlook?

The job prospects for clinical social workers are good. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects a 26.8 percent employment spike by 2022. This is largely due to the U.S.’s aging population.

If you’ve got a passion for helping others and supporting them while they navigate their health challenges, you could have a stellar career as a clinical social worker.


Image: istock

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