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What Does a Hospital Social Worker Actually Do?

December 5, 2022
Social work is one of the fastest growing professions, expected to grow 12 percent by 2030. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were more than 715,000 social workers in the United States in 2020, and they touch every area of daily life.

Social workers are present in schools, hospitals, prisons, the military, and elected offices. They assist individuals and families with issues ranging from discrimination, poverty, and disability to mental and physical health.

Because their roles are so vast and comprehensive, it can be difficult for a social worker to explain to others what they actually do. While the profession might not be as recognizable as a doctor or nurse, they are an integral part of care teams and are woven tightly into the fabric of society.

At GBMC, licensed clinical social workers and licensed nurse care managers make up the Care Management Team. In the simplest terms, licensed clinical social workers do discharge planning for patients. But what most don’t realize is discharge planning starts at admission.

“We are a part of a patient’s treatment team. We are an integral part of multidisciplinary rounds—in fact, we lead rounds—and ensure a patient’s medical needs are set up and ready to go before they leave the hospital,” said Victoria “Tory” Hershfeld, crisis social worker in the Emergency Department (ED). “Our role starts the minute a patient comes into the hospital. Communication is key.”

Tory works solely in the ED, managing crisis patients while other members of the Care Management team are assigned to various departments throughout the hospital.

It’s the Care Management team’s job to get the story behind why a patient was brought to the hospital. They ask questions to assess a patient’s background, current state of health, and what supports are available at home. Throughout the patient’s stay, these needs and background are communicated to the whole care team.

When it’s time for discharge, the social worker is aware of what’s already in place and has set up additional supports based on recommendations from the inpatient team. All this work behind the scenes sets the stage for a patient to have a smooth transition home, maintain their health while they are there, and get the outpatient services they need.

“Our role in Care Management is important because we are one of the only disciplines that isn’t just about the medical, but ties the whole picture together,” Nichole Parrish, social worker for the Hospitalist team, said. “Sometimes we have to remind the providers about the financial or social aspect of things, what this patient’s situation is going to look like outside of the hospital. We bring the real-life aspect into a patient’s care.”

According to the National Association of Social Workers, social workers seek to improve the lives of others, which can mean helping people deal with relationships, solving personal and family problems, research, advocacy, and public policy work. But the common thread is looking at the whole picture to help someone physically, mentally, and emotionally, which extends into the hospital setting.

“When you come to the hospital, it can be anxiety provoking,” Tory said. “We are all in control of our own lives, but when you come into the hospital, your care is placed in the hands of the medical teams here at GBMC. Everyone does a fantastic job caring for patients, but it raises anxiety for patients because they are no longer calling the shots. I like to acknowledge the anxiety, humanize it, and let them know it’s OK to feel that way.”

The next time you or your family member is in the hospital, look for the social worker. They are your sounding board, your advocate, and your support system. They are there for you.

If you want to join this amazing, dedicated, and compassionate team, visit our Careers page and search “social worker” to apply.
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