Four critical roles of social workers in hospitals

Four critical roles of social workers in hospitals

When most people think of those in hospitals, they think about doctors, nurses, and medical technicians. But more professionals are working in tandem to provide care: social workers. The contributions of social workers in hospitals go beyond what can be cured with medicines and surgical procedures. They address the psychological, social, and environmental factors that affect a patient’s health and recovery.

Today’s healthcare landscape is more dynamic than ever before. Social workers provide the emotional support, understanding, and empathy that some clients need to hasten recovery, which is why it’s an in-demand role. In fact, some of the highest paying jobs with a social work degree are between $74,000 and well over $131,000. All you need is an online Master of Social Work (MSW) degree certificate, which you can get from New York’s top college, Keuka College.

You’ll also need a social work license, and the Keuka College program provides everything you need to check the box for licensure. It includes essential practice hours to familiarize you with real-life situations before kick-starting your career.

These experiences can set you up for success and prepare you for what lies ahead. If you’re wondering what’s important about social workers, this article will articulate four of their essential roles in hospital care.

Four critical roles of social workers in a hospital setting

Social workers are sometimes regarded as welfare workers whose most important role is to ensure patients’ emotional well-being. That is, illnesses sometimes don’t just affect human physical and biological health. They also affect the emotional and mental aspects, and social workers help relieve patients of such emotional burdens. Their work is more nuanced than this, but you’ll see it in this section.

Completing assessments

An assessment is an in-depth evaluation of a patient. The social worker gathers information about the patient’s psychological well-being, social conditions, family dynamics, living environment, and financial status. It is often done through interviews, surveys, observations, and consultations with other professionals in charge of the patient. Why do they do this?

Medical treatment is not a one-size-fits-all solution. For healthcare to be effective, it must consider the whole individual, not just the symptoms or the disease. Medical professionals like doctors and nurses primarily focus on diagnosing and treating medical conditions. However, underlying social or emotional issues can impact a patient’s ability to recover or manage their condition effectively.

For example, a patient with diabetes might need more than insulin and dietary changes. They might also be struggling with food insecurity or a lack of a support network, factors that a social worker is trained to identify.

This assessment provides a comprehensive understanding of what might affect a patient’s medical treatment and overall well-being. It informs medical care plans, facilitates more effective communication between the healthcare team and the patient, and identifies interventions that could improve patient health.

Making a safe discharge plan

Discharge planning is the process of preparing a patient to leave the hospital. The discharge here means transitioning back into their home or another healthcare facility (perhaps a rehabilitation center). This multidisciplinary endeavor involves coordinating with doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers. The plan outlines the patient’s medical needs, follow-up appointments, and any home modifications that need to be made. Why is this a necessity?

A patient recovering from surgery may require specialized rehabilitation services or home care. There must be plans to prevent them from living in a home with stairs but no railings. If this backend check is not done, the patient risks exposure to danger, which may lead to complications and readmission. An effective discharge plan prevents this and supports ongoing care outside hospital premises.

Balancing family dynamics

In a hospital setting, social workers serve as mediators and counselors who address and balance complex family dynamics. They engage with families who are often under extreme stress due to the medical conditions of their loved ones. The social worker listens, advises, and facilitates conversations among family members and between the family and the medical team.

They know that building or keeping a family together is not easy. They then ensure that family issues, like disputes over medical decisions and long-standing interpersonal conflicts, do not interfere with patient care.

Why is this important?

When a family member is hospitalized, emotions often run high. Differences in opinion about treatment options, caregiving responsibilities, and religious or ethical beliefs can create tension. It potentially affects the patient’s treatment and well-being. For instance, family members may have disagreements about pursuing aggressive treatment for a terminally ill patient. Such situations cause emotional strain but may result in delayed treatment.

Social workers are responsible for mediating by ensuring consensus among family members. How? They start by meeting key family members to educate them on available treatment options and the potential outcomes. They can also allow family members to air their views; the social worker addresses every concern. The goal is to ensure the family arrives at a mutually beneficial decision that favors the patient.

Counseling and emotional support

Social workers are also the primary sources of emotional and psychological support for patients and their families. They offer counseling services to address emotional issues. These could be managing the stress associated with a new diagnosis, coping with the complexities of chronic illnesses, and navigating end-of-life decisions.

This role is vital to healthcare because hospitalizations are often emotionally turbulent for patients and families. A sudden accident, a grim diagnosis, or the prospect of long-term illness can have profound psychological impacts. For example, some terminally ill patients experience significant levels of anxiety and depression, and these emotional challenges may affect the patient’s ability to cope with medical treatments. That’s partly why there are always support groups for terminally ill patients.

So, how do social workers help in cases like this?

Social workers use different recovery techniques to help their patients. For instance, they use cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques to help manage anxiety or stress. They offer grief counseling in cases involving terminal illnesses, and they provide resources for ongoing psychological support. All these help them coordinate psychiatric services when necessary so patients can enjoy longer-term mental health support.


Social workers are not just supporters in hospitals. They’re also there to bridge gaps in healthcare by focusing on the emotional, social, and ethical aspects often overlooked in patient care. They help complete holistic assessments, solve family dynamics, and provide safe discharge plans and emotional support when needed. All these help them contribute to more effective, compassionate, and comprehensive healthcare.