Every day, social workers challenge societal issues, advance human dignity, and build stronger relationships for the betterment of individual and community wellbeing.
A career in social work provides opportunities to work in diverse landscapes across the United States, helping people from infancy to adulthood. The list of careers in social work is long and full of opportunities.
“If you want a career with meaning, action, diversity, satisfaction, and an abundance of options, social work is for you,” the Illinois chapter of the National Association of Social Workers said. “They are generalists and specialists who work in a wide variety of settings but apply common core values, principles, and techniques.”
Social workers serve in schools, community centers, homeless shelters, universities, social service agencies, non-profit organizations, governmental agencies, and scores of other places. Choosing a career in social work may be challenging because of the abundance of choices. However, one thing underpins any career decision: education. Many of the top social work careers require applicants to have a master’s in social work, and many working professionals choose an online master’s in social work program to earn the degree.
After graduating with a master’s degree, earning the proper licensure or certification, and working for several years under supervision, social workers are eligible to become licensed clinical social workers. From there, graduates can find work as medical, geriatric, social policy, or child, family, and school social workers.
Working as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)
LCSWs account for more than half of the professionally trained mental health providers in the United States. As such, they help individuals and families address issues that cause emotional or psychological distress, including addiction, severe physical illness, injury or trauma, anxiety, or new life situations.
LCSWs focus on assessing, diagnosing, treating, and preventing mental illness and behavioral problems. The practice encompasses four areas: bio-psychosocial assessment and diagnosis, social casework, counseling, and psychotherapy, the Clinical Social Work Association (CSWA) said.
LCSWs work in private practice, hospitals, schools, community mental health centers, prisons, the military, childcare facilities, and government agencies.
After earning licensure, many social workers decide to work in other subsectors of the field where they feel they can make the most impact.
Career Options for LCSWs
Working as a social worker in a specialty field provides an opportunity to focus on a single area of need. Here is a list of careers in social work:
- Medical and healthcare social worker: Healthcare social workers help individuals, families, and groups of people navigate healthcare systems so they can achieve optimal health to function in their daily lives. Healthcare social workers provide services to patients, their families, and caregivers. They provide patient education for disease management or prevention and make referrals for physical and mental health services.
As part of their job, healthcare social workers collaborate with physicians, nurses, and other providers to assess needs. They investigate suspected child abuse cases and help families find much-needed services including legal aid, job placement, housing, and education.
Healthcare social workers are employed in hospitals, medical clinics, nursing homes, and government agencies.
- Geriatric social worker: Geriatric social workers help individuals, families, and caregivers access resources to provide aging patients with the necessary care. In the process, social workers conduct in-depth assessments to determine appropriate support, which could include housing, transportation, home care, financial aid, and legal resources.
Social workers help diagnose depression in older adults and help family members understand a dementia diagnosis. Geriatric social workers address the medical and psychological issues that come with managing multiple medications, including side effects and a lack of adherence. They help older adults and their families complete documentation that is vital to long- and short-term care such as advanced directives. Geriatric social workers are employed in nursing homes, rehab facilities, assisted living, and residential care facilities, and in private homes.
- Child, family, and school social worker: Child, family, and school social workers seek to strengthen families and improve the quality of life for children. They may work with children directly or with families as a whole.
Social workers help children and adults get out of unsafe situations, get medical attention, and obtain financial assistance. They serve as liaisons between families, children, schools, courts, protective services, and doctors. They help children who face poverty, abuse, or disabilities. Social workers also help families and minors address legal problems, custodial arrangements, and foster or adoption proceedings.
Child, family, and school social workers serve in schools, government agencies, community centers, and child care facilities.
- Social policy advocacy: As advocates for positive change, human dignity, and social justice, social workers take policy-making positions to effect positive changes in the communities they serve. Working in social policy allows social workers to help craft local, state, and federal laws that can assist the underserved population. They also work in nonprofit organizations and community outreach programs.
The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) said social workers enhance the overall social well-being by working to address areas of economic inequality and health disparities.
Social workers specializing in policy and advocacy take roles as professors, researchers, and lawmakers.
Social Worker Salary Information and Education Requirements
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) said the average pay for all social workers is $47,980 per year, but salaries may increase by specialty area. For example, healthcare social workers earn on average $56,810 a year, the BLS said.
Employment opportunities for social workers are expected to grow by 16 percent from 2016 to 2026, driven by the increased demand for healthcare and social services. The growth is much faster than the average for all other occupations, the BLS said.
The first step to beginning a career in social work include earning a master’s in social work from a school accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). By earning an online master’s in social work, students can learn the necessary information to sit for licensure testing with an eye on working as a licensed social worker. Earning an MSW also provides valued credentials for anyone considering a career in social justice or policy.
About Ohio University’s Online Master of Social Work
Ohio University’s online Master’s in Social Work degree program prepares graduates for a career in social work. Graduates help vulnerable populations handle life’s challenges, in areas that include marriage and family therapy, foster care counseling, crisis counseling, and human resources.
The MSW program, which is offered through the university’s College of Health Sciences and Professions, is 100 percent online and does not require a GRE for admission. Apply today.
Ohio University Blog, “Career Spotlight: Child Welfare Social Worker”
Ohio University Blog, “What to Know About Social Work Licensure”
Ohio University Blog, “Military and Veterans’ Affairs Social Work”
National Association of Social Workers, Helping Social Workers Serve the Nation
National Association of Social Workers, Clinical Social Work
CSWA, Clinical Social Work Association Code of Ethics
NASW, NASW releases updated standards on Social Work Practice in a Health Care Settings
ONet Online/U.S. Department of Labor, Healthcare Social Workers
AGS, Training for Geriatric Social Workers
College Board, Career: Child, Family, and School Social Workers
Child, Family, and School Social Workers: ONet Online/U.S. Department of Labor
Policy Issues: NASW
Social Workers: U.S. Department of Labor