Health Care Careers - Social worker

The job of a social worker is a challenging one. They help people cope with many types of problems, including personal, family, and work-related issues. When people face financial problems, unemployment, serious physical or mental illness, disabilities, conflicts at school or on the job, social workers are there to guide them toward helpful resources and give them support through their difficult times. Social workers act as counselors and give special attention to the poor, who are unable to afford other types of counseling. Because they deal with so many problems, social workers often practice in several different environments. They can be found working in schools, hospitals, mental health clinics, welfare offices, and employment offices.

When people first meet with social workers for help, they talk oneon-one with the social worker about their problems. Social workers help their patients uncover their specific concerns and then review the possible solutions available to them. Because of their education and training, social workers may be able to offer solutions that their patients have never considered or weren't aware of. Finally, once a solution is agreed upon, social workers help their patients take action. This may involve helping patients fill out job applications or other types of forms and arranging for counseling services. By investigating the many resources that can help their patients, social workers can be instrumental in changing the course of their patients' lives.

The job of social workers can be very intense and emotional, as they often become intimately involved with their patients' lives. Social workers offer their services even after their patients are getting help from other sources for their problems. Through the follow-up care, social workers can ensure that the help their patients are receiving is the type of care they need. If something isn't working for their patients, social workers can direct them to a different service or program that may be more effective.

Almost all social workers specialize in a certain area:

  • Family services social workers work with children and youths who are having trouble adjusting with an issue at home or at school.
  • Child or adult protective services social workers investigate reports of abuse in the home. They take action to ease the problem or possibly take children or adults out of abusive homes and place them in safe homes or other facilities.
  • Mental health social workers help people with mental or emotional problems cope with their daily lives.
  • Health care social workers help people who are dealing with a serious or chronic illness, such as AIDS or Alzheimer's disease.
  • School services social workers handle students' problems, such as pregnancy, bad behavior, or poor performance in school.
  • Criminal justice social workers help convicted criminals and their families with court procedures and issues that arise after a person is released from prison.
  • Occupational services social workers help people who have problems with their jobs, such as stress, or who have personal problems that are affecting their work.
  • Gerontological services social workers deal with the concerns of elderly people and their families.

Training to Be a Social Worker

People who want to become social workers must have a bachelor's degree in social work (B.S.W.), which allows them to get an entry-level position in the field. This involves studying four years at a college or university whose program has been accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. In addition to classroom work, a student must have 400 hours of supervised training in the field.


Jane Addams (1860-1935) is considered a trailblazer of social reform. She dedicated her life to helping the poor and was responsible for starting one of the first settlement houses (a place that provides free services to communities) in the United States. Addams and her friend Ellen Starr established Hull House in Chicago, Illinois, in 1889 as a way to help poor and troubled families, as well as immigrants, who were living in the slums of the city. Addams worked and lived there until her death in 1935.

The seeds for planning Hull House were planted in Addams's head after a trip to Europe when she was a young woman. In London, she visited another settlement house called Toynbee Hall, where young women were helping poor people. One year after her return to America, she rented a house (the Hull mansion) and offered a variety of services, such as day-care centers for working mothers and recreational activities for children and teens. Through Addams's dedication and hard work, Hull House expanded with money from private citizens and grants from social agencies. Soon after its opening, Hull House became famous throughout the United States. It grew from one building to thirteen and offered medical care, legal aid, and English classes, as well as art, music, and drama instruction. By 1893, Hull House was helping more than 2,000 people each week.

The success of Hull House continued after Addams's death. Today, the original Hull House stands as a museum, but the Jane Addams Hull House Association continues to help many poor communities of Chicago.

For those who wish to work in the health or mental health area, it's necessary to have a master's degree in social work, which usually takes an additional two years of study, 900 hours of supervised training or an internship. A master's degree will also broaden the opportunities for social workers, allowing them to work in positions that supervise or train other people. All social workers must be licensed by the state in which they work; each state has its own requirements for licensing.

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