California Occupational Guides

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Detailed Guide for

Healthcare Social Workers in California

May also be called: Clinical Social Workers; Health Care Social Workers; Hospital Discharge Social Workers; Licensed Clinical Social Workers; Medical Social Workers; Oncology Social Workers; Public Health Social Workers; Service Coordinators; and Social Service Case Managers

What Would I Do?

Today’s society benefits from the efforts of early social workers who saw the wrongs against humanity and took action against abuse and neglect, such as child labor laws. They paved the way for creating private and charitable organizations to help people in need. Current programs such as Medi-Cal and Medicaid have their roots in the activities of early social workers.

Medical and Public Health Social Workers, or Health Care Social Workers, are a specialty in the social work field. Yet, the work they do spans to many areas from helping one person to effecting change in the entire state. They view their clients' issues in their entirety which includes the person's social circle. Social Workers assess their clients' needs, then educate them, thus empowering the persons to make better decisions regarding their situations. These Social Workers provide emotional support to individuals and families to help them cope with life-threatening and chronic diseases or disabilities. Health Care Social Workers make sure the patient will be cared for after leaving the hospital. To do this, these Social Workers ensure their clients get the equipment and services they need. For example, their activities range from finding a nursing home to arranging for meals to be delivered to a client's home. Health Care Social Workers can help save money by setting up services to enable people to stay out of institutions, like nursing homes. Patient quality and length of life is continually improving as technology changes in health care. So, Health Care Social Workers attempt to create new programs and services to meet the evolving needs of their patients, which may be a support group for parents of special-needs children. Another example, these Social Workers could also help create means of charging Medicare for transitional care services to hospital discharge patients. This would help reduce preventable hospital readmissions by reducing complications as patients move from the hospital to other locations.

Health Care Social Workers spend time meeting with clients and their families and making phone calls to set up services. Each case is different requiring a few minutes to months of time to address, depending upon the complexity of issues. These Social Workers may also lead support groups in the evening. Health Care Social Workers sometimes research and help develop policies. Some may work on teams that evaluate specific kinds of patients, such as organ transplant patients. Some specialize in pediatrics, eating disorders, hospice, chronic pain, outpatient treatment, and HIV/AIDS. Others specialize in gerontology services, genetics, Alzheimer's, and in-home services. Still others specialize in substance abuse, mental health, administration, and adult care. Those who specialize in public health issues may work with individuals or communities. For instance, they can work on preventing suicide with individuals or a larger population. In fact, they may work for the state establishing policy, such as legislation to relieve human burden and costs connected to Alzheimer's disease like the Alzheimer's Disease Program. This program provides for the California Alzheimer's Disease Centers which offer diagnostic and treatment services, training for the medical professionals, and community education such as caregiver training.

Tools and Technology

Social Workers operate computers to perform their tasks. They typically use electronic mail, spreadsheet, and calendar and scheduling software. They also use word processing and medical, such as electronic health records, software.

Important Tasks and Related Skills

Each task below is matched to a sample skill required to carry out the task.

View the skill definitions
TaskSkill Used in this Task
Collaborate with other professionals to evaluate patients' medical or physical condition and to assess client needs.Judgment and Decision Making
Counsel clients and patients in individual and group sessions to help them overcome dependencies, recover from illness, and adjust to life.Social Perceptiveness
Monitor, evaluate, and record client progress according to measurable treatment goals described in treatment and care plan.Deductive Reasoning
Identify environmental impediments to client or patient progress through interviews and review of patient records.Oral Comprehension
Modify treatment plans to comply with changes in clients' status.Written Comprehension
Supervise and direct other workers providing services to clients or patients.Oral Expression
Refer patient, client, or family to community resources to assist in recovery from mental or physical illness and to provide access to services such as financial assistance, legal aid, housing, job placement or education.Coordination
Develop or advise on social policy and assist in community development.Complex Problem Solving
Organize support groups or counsel family members to assist them in understanding, dealing with, and supporting the client or patient.Customer and Personal Service
Source: U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Information Network (O*NET)

Working Conditions

Health Care Social Workers can be found in health care settings, social service agencies, and government. Examples of where they may work are hospitals, dialysis clinics, community health centers, and long-term care facilities. They may also work for hospices and home-care providers. Those who work in home- and community-based programs help people remain in their own homes by connecting them to appropriate services they need.

The work can be challenging and stressful for numerous reasons. Many organizations are understaffed causing increased caseloads. Deadlines to arrange services for patients are often short. Caring for patients who are suffering, dying, or resistant to help can be difficult. Caring for caregivers can be emotionally draining, too. It is important for Health Care Social Workers to apply self-care to protect their emotional health. Also, finding success in patients who go into remission or die at peace helps Health Care Social Workers cope with the daily stressors they encounter.

The typical workweek for Health Care Social Workers is 40 hours. However, some occasionally work evenings and weekends to meet with clients and attend community meetings or support groups. This would also require some local travel.

Some Health Care Social Workers belong to professional associations such as the National Association of Social Workers (NASW).

Will This Job Fit Me?

The job of health care social work may appeal to those who enjoy helping or providing service to others. Health Care Social Workers should be compassionate, sensitive, and emotionally mature. In addition, it is beneficial if they are flexible and creative in solving problems. It is also helpful to be able to build relationships and allow clients to make their own decisions. Because Health Care Social Workers deal with vulnerable clients, it is essential they keep high ethics. Those who find value in their work by making things better for people are often drawn to this occupation. These professionals enable their clients to live up to their fullest potential. For Public Health Social Workers, it is important to be able to organize and motivate others.

What Wages and Benefits Can I Expect?


The median wage in 2016 for Healthcare Social Workers in California is $68,651 annually, or $33.00 hourly. The median is the point at which half of the workers earn more and half earn less.

Change to Hourly Wages
Annual Wages for 2016Low
(25th percentile)
(50th percentile)
(75th percentile)
Source: EDD/LMID Occupational Employment Statistics Survey, 2016 Wages do not reflect self-employment.
View Wages for All Areas


Benefits may vary depending on full- or part-time status. Typical benefits include medical, dental, life, and vision insurance. Other regular benefits are vacation, sick leave, and retirement plans. Frequently, employers offer tuition reimbursement. Some offer employee assistance programs.

What is the Job Outlook?

One of the major contributing factors in the demand for Health Care Social Workers is the rise in the elderly population. Health Care Social Workers will be needed to aid in finding the best care and assistance for the aging, as well as to support their families. As the population ages, demand for Health Care Social Workers should increase in nursing homes. This is also true for long-term care facilities and in-home care agencies. Demand should also increase in hospices and assisted-living and senior-living communities.

Projections of Employment

In California, the number of Healthcare Social Workers is expected to grow much faster than average growth rate for all occupations. Jobs for Healthcare Social Workers are expected to increase by 23.1 percent, or 3,300 jobs between 2014 and 2024.

Estimated Employment and Projected Growth
Healthcare Social Workers
Geographic Area
(Estimated Year-Projected Year)
Additional Openings
Due to Net
Source: EDD/LMID Projections of Employment by Occupation
View Projected Growth for All Areas

Annual Job Openings

In California, an average of 330 new job openings per year is expected for Healthcare Social Workers, plus an additional 340 job openings due to net replacement needs, resulting in a total of 670 job openings.

Estimated Average Annual Job Openings
Healthcare Social Workers
Geographic Area
(Estimated Year-
Projected Year)
Jobs From GrowthJobs Due to
Net Replacements
Total Annual
Job Openings
Source: EDD/LMID Projections of Employment by Occupation
View Data for All Areas

How Do I Qualify?

Education, Training, and Other Requirements

Most employers want to hire someone with a master's degree in social work issued by a school accredited by the Council of Social Work Education. However, some will accept a bachelor's degree for entry-level work. Most employers complete a criminal background check on potential employees.


Many employers want a minimum of one year experience. However, some prefer job candidates to have up to five years' experience.

Early Career Planning

High school students interested in becoming a Health Care Social Worker should take courses in biology, cultural studies, health, peer counseling, psychology, and computer technology. A foreign language is helpful to qualify for bilingual positions. In addition, volunteering to be a peer counselor in high school is a good way to check out this field. Volunteering as a social work aide or in a medical facility will expose the volunteer to medical terminology and the medical environment.

Work-Study Programs

Internships are an important part of college programs for both the bachelor and master's degrees. Field internships provide students an opportunity to apply what they have learned in a supervised setting.

Continuing Education

Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) must complete continuing education to maintain their license from the California Department of Consumer Affairs, Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS). Individuals must finish 18 hours of continuing education by the first time their license expires. Thereafter, the licensees must complete 36 hours of continuing education every two years.

Twenty hours of continuing education are required every two years to maintain specialty certifications offered by National Association of Social Workers (NASW).

Licensing and Certification

Some employers require a valid license as a Clinical Social Worker to be hired. The BBS licenses Clinical Social Workers. The license must be renewed every two years. Applicants must obtain a master's degree from a school that is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of the Council on Social Work Education. They must register as an associate Clinical Social Worker. Then, they must obtain the required experience, take additional required courses, and pass two exams. Applicants must also pass a criminal background check.

The NASW offers specialty, two-year certifications for social workers fulfilling certain requirements. One certification is the Certified Social Worker in Health Care (C-SWHC). Those who have obtained a master's degree, met the supervised experience requirements, and met the license credentialing criteria can apply. They must also provide a reference from a social work colleague and pay the appropriate fees. Any violations of the NASW Code of Ethics or state social work licensing laws must be evaluated and approved for certification.

The NASW offers three gerontology certifications representing different levels of education and experience servicing older adults. Another specialty certification is for those in hospice and palliative care. These Health Care Social Workers deal with those who have serious, life-limiting illnesses. These professionals try to provide the best quality of life possible. The certificate is awarded to those who have a bachelor's degree and experience in this setting. For more information, go to the U.S. Department of Labor's Career InfoNet Web site and scroll down to "Career Tools." Click on "Certification Finder" and follow the instructions to locate certification programs.

Where Can I Find Training?

There are two ways to search for training information:

Contact the schools you are interested in to learn about the classes available, tuition and fees, and any prerequisite course work.

Where Would I Work?

The largest industries employing Healthcare Social Workers are as follows:

Industry TitlePercent of Total Employment for Occupation in California
General Medical and Surgical Hospitals 29.0%
Individual and Family Services 12.1%
Outpatient Care Centers 11.4%
Home Health Care Services 10.6%
Local Government 7.5%
Source: EDD/LMID Staffing Patterns

Finding a Job

Direct application to employers remains an effective way to seek work. Job listings may be found through Internet listings, classified ads in newspapers, and job fairs. Students can find job opportunities through internships and placement offices at colleges. Professional associations provide networking opportunities. They provide job boards on their websites as well. Online job opening systems include JobCentral at and CalJOBSSM at

To find your nearest One-Stop Career Center, go to Service Locator. View the helpful job search tips for more resources. (requires Adobe Reader).

Yellow Page Headings

You can focus your local job search by checking employers listed online or in your local telephone directory. Below are some suggested headings where you might find employers of Healthcare Social Workers.

  • Clinical Social Worker
  • Hospice Social Worker
  • Medical Social Worker
  • Oncology Social Worker
  • Pediatric Social Worker
  • Public Health Social Worker

Find Possible Employers

To locate a list of employers in your area, go to "Find Employers" on the Labor Market Information Web site:

  • Select one of the top industries that employ the occupation. This will give you a list of employers in that industry in your area.
  • Click on "View Filter Selections" to limit your list to specific cities or employer size.
  • Click on an employer for the street address, telephone number, size of business, Web site, etc.
  • Contact the employer for possible employment.

Where Could This Job Lead?

Through continuing education, Health Care Social Workers may specialize in different areas of practice, such as oncology. After obtaining experience and an advanced degree, they may enter into supervision, program management, or program evaluation. Those who wish to teach college courses usually need to obtain a doctorate. Some may enter private practice or become a lobbyist for an organization, such as a nonprofit serving the needs of the young or aged.

Related Occupations

Below is a list of occupations related to Healthcare Social Workers with links to more information.

Child, Family, and School Social WorkersGuide
Occupational TherapistsGuide
Physical TherapistsGuide
Recreational TherapistsGuide
Residential AdvisorsProfile
Social and Human Service AssistantsGuide

Other Sources

These links are provided for your convenience and do not constitute an endorsement by EDD.

For the Career Professional

The following codes are provided to assist counselors, job placement workers, or other career professionals.

SOC - Standard Occupational Classification21-1022
O*NET - Occupational Information Network
   Healthcare Social Workers21-1022.00
   Interest Codes (RIASEC)SIA