What work environments are possible with an MSW?

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Adults at a group therapy session

A variety of specializations exist in the social work profession. Pursuing a Master of Social Work degree can open up opportunities to function in a range of sectors. With so many types of social workers in demand, in settings ranging from government agencies and schools to private businesses and advocacy groups, there are many possibilities out there. Here are five prominent industry work settings that are well suited to those with an MSW:

1. Private practice

Operating in private practice can give social workers freedom to set their own schedules, build their own business, and focus on taking on the types of clients they are most interested in working with. These benefits do come with some caveats, particularly in the need to handle the administrative parts of the organization and working to develop a steady flow of clients to maintain consistent cash flow.

When working in private practice, social workers take on a great deal of responsibility for their own success. They frequently work in home offices or lease a dedicated office space. The perk is that social workers in private practice can truly customize what they do and how they do it based on their specific preferences and work tendencies.
One of the major challenges of private practice is the level of expertise needed to support clients without having a clinical supervisor to fall back on. This is where earning an MSW degree is particularly important. An MSW is required for licensure as a clinical social worker, which is necessary before entering into private practice. As such, getting an MSW degree is essential for social workers hoping to go it alone, as the degree can provide educational opportunities and practical training while also smoothing the path to licensure.

2. Health care facilities

Hospitals, clinics, mental health centers, and similar health care organizations often turn to social workers to provide clinical support to help patients and their families make difficult care decisions, deal with grief, and navigate the recovery process. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that approximately 13% of social workers operate in ambulatory health care settings and 12% work in hospitals.

The highly clinical nature of the social work done in health care settings makes having an MSW essential. If you want to work in a hospital, there may be non-clinical roles where clinical licensure is not necessary, such as working as a patient advocate. However, the deeper knowledge of clinical care gained when pursuing an MSW can help practitioners better understand the various systems involved in health care and prepare individuals for a non-clinical role in health care. Counseling and other clinical social work jobs are also key in many health care settings, particularly in mental health facilities, rehab clinics, and similar environments. This brings the same licensing issues as private practice into focus, making the MSW degree essential.

3. Schools and family services

While schools and agencies providing family services can be very different, the type of social work practiced in these settings is often similar. An article from the National Association of Social Workers highlighted a variety of types of social work that professionals can pursue, and many of them intersect when working in schools or family service settings. These can include child welfare and development disabilities social work. School social work can be unique in the blend of supporting individuals and families while also promoting a positive community environment. Family services agencies, on the other hand, may focus more on family interactions, foster care services, and similar matters. In either case, the emphasis on working with children and their families to create safe home and developmental environments is a common goal.

The BLS found that there were more than 682,000 social work jobs in the country in 2016. Approximately 317,000 of those jobs fell into the category of child, family, and school social workers.
Obtaining an MSW can prepare one to work in this sector by exposing students to the breadth of knowledge needed to work in school and family settings. Working at a school, for example, can mean interacting with a diverse range of students each day, all with varied needs. At the same time, helping families requires care skills covering a variety of age ranges and related life challenges.

4. Private-sector businesses

As businesses become more aware of the mental and emotional challenges of today’s fast-paced work environments, more are implementing strategies to incorporate social workers into their staff. According to a Fast Company report, companies are increasingly creating teams that help businesses manage some of the complexities of work environments where more basic tasks are automated and employees are expected to succeed in settings where emotional intelligence and similar traits are increasingly important. Companies are also becoming more concerned about doing social good and creating safer work environments as well. Social work teams that directly support employees or provide company leadership are emerging in response.

5. Remote work

Entering the social work field doesn’t always lead to working in a typical office setting. A Flex Jobs report highlighted 10 companies that offer remote social work opportunities. These jobs are often in some form of health care field, but higher education and insurance are also represented.

Accessible video chat and other online communication tools make remote social work possible, and can be an option for those who want to work from home but aren’t ready for private practice.

Take your first step with an MSW

Social workers can end up getting the job done in a variety of places. If you have a specific ideal work setting in mind or want flexibility, and MSW degree can help you achieve your goals. The online MSW program from Regis College makes an advanced degree accessible while offering student support to help you further your social work education. We’d love to speak with you about your goals and how we can help you achieve them. Contact us today to learn more.

Recommended Readings:

A look at hospice social work in the prison system

Starting a private practice, and how an MSW can help



Occupational Outlook Handbook: Social Workers by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics

Types of Social Work by the National Association of Social Workers

Why Companies Need to Hire Social Workers by Fast Company

10 Companies with Online Social Work Jobs by FlexJobs