A Bright Future for Social Workers in Health Care

Posted by MaryBeth Kurland, CAE on 03/19/2018 - 8:33 AM

The future is not just bright for social workers in health care. It’s positively brilliant. 

Job growth for social workers overall is projected to be 16 percent over most of the next decade—much faster than other occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But for social workers in health care, the demand is even greater—almost three times greater than average job growth1.  

In March, we celebrate the role social workers play across all settings—in human services, mental health, education, and, of course, in health care. The National Association of Social Workers aptly spotlights three characteristics of social workers as leaders, advocates and champions. In my role as the Commission’s CEO, I often hear about case managers demonstrating leadership on the health care team, advocating for clients as they connect them to needed resources, and championing the rights of patients and their caregivers in a complex health care landscape.

Did you know that social workers were among the first health care case managers? In the early 1970s, Medicaid and Medicare case management demonstration projects often tapped social workers to coordinate and facilitate care. 

Today, there is growing recognition that social determinants of health, such as food and housing security, safety and transportation, figure prominently in health outcomes. A recent study by Indiana University and the Regenstrief Institute estimates that about half of the adults in a hospital system could benefit from meeting a social health need2. A growing number of Medicaid managed care programs integrate screening and referral for social health factors, and commercial health plans are also working to connect patients with social and behavioral health resources in a more integrated model. 

Health care case management is one of many career paths for social workers, and the Commission is working with NASW to attract more social work professionals to this sector. Social workers as case managers are integral partners on the team, bringing their advanced skills to lead, advocate, and champion for their clients in primary care, hospitals and integrated health systems, to assess and address social determinants upstream.

The Commission for Case Manager Certification has always welcomed qualified social workers as candidates for the Certified Case Manager® credential. Just two years ago, we formally announced our partnership with NASW to draw attention to the workforce need for social workers to bring their specialized skills to the advanced role of the case manager. We are excited about the many social workers who have already applied for the NASW case management credentials (C-SWCM or C-ASWCM) and who took us up on the offer to automatically pre-qualify to take the CCM certification exam at no extra cost. 

Social work is rooted in more than a century of community-focused outreach, leadership and client advocacy. Health care needs more social workers to champion patients and their caregivers through a career in case management. 

This month, as we celebrate the valued contributions of social workers, I invite you to consider a health care career path. Social workers are sorely needed to assess needs and lead, advocate for, and champion the clients who are most often underserved in health care.

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[1] “Social Workers, 2016-2026.” Occupational Outlook Handbook. Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-workers.htm#....

[2] HealthData Management. “Algorithms predict need for social determinants of health services.” Feb. 22, 2018. https://www.healthdatamanagement.com/news/algorithms-predict-need-for-so...

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