What Does a Clinical & Medical Social Worker Really Do? 


The Best Guide to Medical Social Services for Medical and Public Health Social Worker

One of the top fields for social workers is medical social work. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), medical and hospital social services is the 2nd largest category of social work, just behind the combined category of child, family, and school social workers.

This Medical and Clinical Social Worker Guide is designed to give you a detailed look at medical social services, including the clinical social worker job description as compared to that of non-clinical medical social work.

We’ll also touch on mental health and clinical social work, medical and hospice social worker assessment questions, and answer, “How to find a licensed clinical social worker near me or a medical social worker near me?”

medical social worker

What does a clinical social worker do?

A medical and health social worker assists people in a medical setting, which can be a hospital, hospice, substance abuse center, psychiatric hospital, or outpatient care facility. Medical and psychiatric social work can also include home visits and at-home care.

A medical facility or hospital case worker job description can include many things, including initial mental health assessments, family support and guidance, and outpatient service coordination. A medical social worker in a hospital is especially relied upon when it comes to helping patients and their families with their next steps after discharge.

We’ll get started with the main question those interested in social work and potentially becoming an LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker) often ask, which is: What Is a Medical Social Worker? Click on the first link below for the answers to this often asked question. 


Table of Contents: Medical & Clinical Social Worker Job Description

Keep on scrolling down this page to read each section, or click any link below to go directly to that section.

  1. What Is a Medical Social Worker?
  2. What’s the Difference Between a Clinical Social Worker, Medical Social Worker, and Psychiatric Social Worker?
  3. What Is Medical Psychiatric Social Work?
  4. What Is a Hospice Social Worker? What Do They Really do?
  5. Hospital Social Work Assessment Example Questions & Categories 
  6. How Do I Find a Licensed Clinical Social Worker Near Me?
  7. Conclusion | What is a Clinical Social Worker & Hospital Social Worker?
  8. What Do Social Workers Do in Hospitals – Add’t FAQs 

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Contact us if you have any questions or feedback about this end-to-end social work guide that covers what does a social worker do in a hospital or in any clinical environment. 


What Is a Medical Social Worker?

Medical social work involves providing support to individuals and families that are going through an acute, chronic, or terminal medical situation.  The range of assistance that a medical and health social worker provides can vary widely.

For example, a hospice social worker may conduct assessments of a patient to identify the emotional support needs they have. A hospital social worker often will be relied on to assist patients upon discharge with financial and after-care resources. A licensed independent clinical social worker may work in the psychiatric field and diagnose mental illnesses and recommend treatment plans.

If you were searching for “medical social worker near me,” you would find several sub-types in the medical and public health social worker field. These can include:

  • Home health care social worker
  • Clinical social worker
  • Licensed clinical social worker
  • Hospice social worker
  • Medical psychiatric social work
  • Hospital social worker
  • Hospital case worker
  • Social worker Medicare specialist

What Does a Social Worker Do in a Hospital?

One of the main areas where you’ll find those doing medical and psychiatric social work is in a hospital. You may wonder, what does a social worker do in a hospital since they aren’t a doctor or nurse.

A medical social worker in hospital settings will offer a lot of help and support to patients and their families. They’re an advocate for the patient that knows the medical and insurance systems and can provide guidance navigating these complex structures in a medical crisis.

What do social workers do in hospitals?

  • Act as a Liaison: A medical social worker in a hospital coordinates patient care between the medical personnel (doctors, nurses, physical therapists, physicians’ assistants). They advocate in the best interests of the patient.
  • Provide Supportive Counseling: Being in a hospital is typically a stressful and confusing time for patients and their families. The hospital social services worker acts as a supportive anchor and helps everyone better cope with the situation.
  • Refer People to Support Agencies: From references for low-cost funerals and cremations to support groups for newly disabled patients, a medical social worker provides important referrals to help patients and their families with financial and other support resources.
  • Hospital Case Worker: A medical social worker will often act as a hospital case worker, coordinating post-discharge follow-up, referrals for therapy or palliative care, and more.
  • Clinical Hospital Social Services: An LCSW licensed clinical social worker can perform medical psychiatric social work, such as assessing a patient for anxiety or depression or making recommendations as to ongoing care.

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What’s the Difference Between a Clinical Social Worker, Medical Social Worker, and Psychiatric Social Worker?

As we’ve discussed above, a medical social worker can work in a wide range of areas in the hospital and non-hospital settings. A medical and health social worker is the most general category for this type of social work.

As social workers gain more experience, education, and licensing, they can move up to other areas under the medical social work umbrella. For example, they may do mental health and clinical social work. They might also do medical psychiatric social work.

What Does a Medical Social Worker Do?

Some of the main things that medical and health care social workers do are:

  • Reviewing new admissions and identifying any special needs
  • Assisting with patient discharge and transfers to another care facility
  • Helping families and patients understand medical insurance coverage
  • Counseling and providing support to patients and their families
  • Providing information on financial and emotional support resources that are available
  • Make diagnoses of mental health and emotional issues, and develop and carry out care plans (LCSW licensed clinical social worker)

What Is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker?

A licensed clinical social worker has completed a master’s degree in social work and has obtained a state license as a social worker. This license is called LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker).

This license allows a medical or hospital social worker to diagnose and conduct therapy for individuals with mental or emotional issues.

What Does a Clinical Social Worker Do?

The clinical social worker job description includes a higher level of care responsibility than the medical social worker.  For example, a licensed independent clinical social worker might provide psychotherapy and counseling for people.

What is a clinical social worker? They may also be called in to assess patients for things like depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other mental issues that require professional help.

Licensed mental health and clinical social work professionals will be well-versed in many types of clinical assessment for social workers to use, such as the GAD-7 for anxiety and the PHQ-9 for depression.

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If you’re interested in finding a clinical assessment for social workers PDF and Word surveys. Check out the AGS Social Work Assessment Toolbox.


What Is Medical Psychiatric Social Work?

Now that we’ve answered, “what is a clinical social worker” and “what does a clinical social worker do,” we’ll take a look at another specialty of medical social work, the psychiatric social worker.

A medical psychiatric social work professional works with those patients that are severely mentally ill and either require hospitalization or other intensive medical care to help them.

A medical and psychiatric social work practitioner will also typically hold an LCSW degree.

What Does a Psychiatric Social Worker Do?

When reviewing the clinical social worker job description, you’ll also find in large part what a psychiatric social worker does. The main difference is that a licensed independent clinical social worker may work with people who only have mild mental or emotional issues.

On the other hand, the psychiatric medical and public health social worker will do the same types of activities – assess issues, create care plans, conduct therapy, offer support and family assistance – but for patients that have much more severe mental problems.

A hospital social work assessment example that a licensed clinical social worker might use will typically look different than those used by a psychiatric social worker, who will be diagnosing more extreme mental conditions.

A medical and psychiatric social work professional doing patient assessments will generally be very familiar with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) used by U.S. health care professionals for the diagnosis of mental disorders.


Do you have any questions or feedback about this article related to a “licensed clinical social worker near me” or finding a “clinical social worker near me?”  If so, click here to contact us.


Need Tools for a Clinical Assessment for Social Workers?

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You’ll find a PHQ-9 and GAD-7 clinical assessment for social workers PDF, MS Forms, and Word survey, plus multiple other social work assessment tools and templates in the AGS Social Worker Assessment Tool.


What Is a Hospice Social Worker? What Do They Really do?

One more answer to “what is a medical social worker” is the hospice social worker. This is another sub-type of medical social work and one that specializes in palliative care.

A hospice social worker will work in the area of support and guidance for those patients that are terminally ill. This includes assisting with emotional support and doing what they can to improve the quality of life of terminal patients facing death from serious conditions, such as cancer.

When reviewing “what does a medical social worker do that works in a hospice,” it’s important to know how their hospital social work assessment example questions will differ from those for non-terminal patients.

 Some of the questions included will include end-of-life wishes, any do-not-resuscitate orders, and funeral, burial, and/or cremation pre-arrangements.

For a hospice social worker Medicare specialist, their assessment may also be subject to the Hospice Comprehensive Assessment Quality Measure from Medicare.

In the next section below, we’ll list some typical hospice social worker assessment questions categories.


Hospital Social Work Assessment Example Questions & Categories

One of the answers to the question, “what do social workers do in hospitals,” relates to helping a patient with a terminal diagnosis transition to a hospice care center or at-home end-of-life care.

If you’re in medical social work as a hospice social worker, there will be several categories of questions that will help you to assess the support the patient might need as they’re nearing the end of their life.

These hospice social work assessment questions categories include:

  • Physical and functional status
  • Emotional and mental health
  • Awareness of illness and prognosis
  • Preferences for end-of-life planning
  • Family coping and bereavement risk
  • Family/caregiver functional status
  • Family relationship issues
  • Culture, spiritual needs, religion
  • Communication and decision-making capabilities
  • Resource needs and safety assessment

You can learn more about these categories and responsibilities for hospice medical social work from ScienceDirect, Journal of Pain and Symptom Management.

hospital social worker

What does a medical social worker do?

Hospice Social Worker Assessment Questions

Here are some examples of the questions a hospice medical social work professional may ask an incoming patient:

  • How are you and your family handling the diagnosis?
  • What immediate needs do you have?
  • What are you most worried about?
  • Are there tasks that need to be completed before you pass?
  • What would bring you the most comfort in the time you have left?
  • Do you feel you are being heard when it comes to major decisions about your care?
  • Which family members do you feel need the most support?
  • What cultural beliefs sustain you?

You can find more questions to ask a terminally ill patient or loved one from Open to Hope.

Of interest to social worker Medicare specialists that also do hospice medical social work will be the upcoming Hospice Outcomes and Patient Evaluation (HOPE) assessment tool. This tool is currently still in development as of this writing. You can learn more about HOPE on the CMS.gov website.


Do you have any questions or feedback about this article about finding a “licensed clinical social worker near me” or a “medical social worker near me?”  If so, click here to contact us.


How Do I Find a Licensed Clinical Social Worker Near Me?

If you’re interested in finding a “licensed clinical social worker near me” there are a few different sources that you can leverage. These include:

  • Healthgrades Social Worker Directory
  • Findasocialworker.ca
  • Google search for “licensed clinical social worker near me”
  • A health insurance company database of providers
  • Ask for a referral from a hospital social worker or your doctor
  • Do a search on LinkedIn for medical and psychiatric social work

Conclusion | What is a Clinical Social Worker & Hospital Social Worker?

We hope that this guide on the various areas of medical social work was of help to you in understanding the different types of medical social services workers.

As you can see, there are social workers assisting patients and their families throughout the medical system, in hospitals, hospice facilities, inpatient homes, and more.

A medical and hospital social worker is a vital patient advocate that acts as an important anchor of support during a time that is generally tumultuous for a patient and their family. This makes medical social work and the medical social worker vital parts of the health care system.


What Do Social Workers Do in Hospitals? FAQs

What is a medical social worker?

Medical social work involves providing support to individuals and families that are going through an acute, chronic, or terminal medical situation. The range of assistance that a medical and health social worker provides can vary widely.

For example, a hospice social worker may conduct assessments of a patient to identify the emotional support needs they have. A hospital social worker often will be relied on to assist patients upon discharge with financial and after-care resources. A licensed independent clinical social worker may work in the psychiatric field and diagnose mental illnesses and recommend treatment plans.

What is the difference between a clinical social worker and a medical social worker?

A licensed clinical social worker has completed a master’s degree in social work and has obtained a state license as a social worker.

This license allows a medical or hospital social worker to diagnose and conduct therapy for individuals with mental or emotional issues.

Is a clinical social worker a doctor?

No, a clinical social worker is not a doctor. However, they can provide diagnosis and treatment for some types of mental and emotional problems.

Some clinical social workers may have their doctorate in social work (Ph.D.), but this would not be the same thing as a medical doctor that attended medical school.

What does a social worker do in a hospital?

A medical social worker in a hospital setting will offer a lot of help and support to patients and their families. They’re an advocate for the patient that knows the medical and insurance systems and can provide guidance to those in a medical crisis.

What do social workers do in hospitals?

• Act as a Liaison
• Provide Supportive Counseling
• Refer People to Support Agencies
• Act as a Hospital Case Worker
• Provide Clinical Hospital Social Services


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