Explaining the Social Worker’s Role in a Hospital  

Social workers are generally individuals who support people in improving their quality of life through counseling, advocacy, and reporting. They often help people through life changes with these skills and refer individuals to the best help in their community. Social workers can operate in a variety of settings with a variety of qualifications. You might most often hear of social workers in childcare settings, like adoptions, but they also can work in retirement facilities, counseling, and legal settings.  

Social workers in hospitals, or medical social workers, serve a variety of functions. They can help explain and navigate illnesses and prognoses with patients, conduct mental health assessments and provide counseling for those in distress, and provide patients with connections to resources. Often they will work closely with the medical team and the family.  

Specific to end-of-life care, social workers can be very helpful in organizing the family and helping them make crucial decisions in a high-stress and emotional environment. They can aid in processing the emotional distress of losing a loved one and can provide connections to therapy and community resources.  

While their role may vary between hospitals, social workers may also assist you in: 

  • Post-care plans 
  • Coordinating insurance 
  • Providing referrals 
  • Finding any equipment 
  • Legal advice 
  • Conflict mediation 
  • Care plan coordination 
  • Crisis intervention 
  • Following up with your health and wellness after interaction in a hospital 

Most hospitals will have a social worker available depending on the size of the hospital. There might be social workers for different departments For example, a hospital might have a Trauma social worker, a Children’s social worker, and a Transplant social worker.  

Social workers are mandatory in some cases, like in transplant cases or in cases of suspected abuse or neglect, but can usually be contacted or requested through the hospital. In cases where the social worker provides mental diagnoses or treatment, they would be considered part of the treatment team, as well as a liaison to the family.  

While social workers may seem like a service separate from medical care, medical social workers can be helpful in many circumstances in the hospital. If you think a social worker might be able to help you, definitely inquire to your care team about the potential benefits. 


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