6 unique career paths in social work

Dr. Satara Charlson
Dr. Satara Charlson

She has served as a tenured professor at Northeastern State University and California Baptist University. For the last fifteen years, she has developed and implemented innovative social work curriculum at both the master's and bachelor’s levels.

6 unique career paths in social work

    There are many things you can do with a social work degree. Because the profession is so broad and encompasses so many fields of practice, the opportunities are abundant and expanding every day. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, social work is one of the fastest-growing professions in the United States.

    To be a social worker, you need a degree in social work from a school accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). The most common social work degrees are a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) and Master of Social Work (MSW). Bachelor-level social work programs prepare students for basic social work practitioner positions.

    » Read: The best schools to earn a social worker degree

    What can you do with a BSW?

    Most BSW practitioners work in direct practice jobs that provide services to clients. Others work in social service programs across various administrative and direct practice levels.

    BSW-level practitioners are employed in:

    • case management
    • child welfare
    • aging services
    • welfare services
    • behavioral intervention services
    • victim advocacy
    • substance abuse
    • public health
    • prevention services.

    BSW-level social workers may also work in grassroots community organizing and advocacy work. While they may be employed with mental health organizations, they cannot provide clinical services like diagnosing and treating mental health issues or providing psychotherapeutic services.

    What can you do with an MSW?

    While MSW-level social workers may work in the same agencies as BSW practitioners, they have more autonomy and an increased scope and breadth of work.

    MSW-level social workers work in:

    • mental health
    • school social work
    • forensic social work
    • military social work
    • medical social work
    • research
    • social policy
    • juvenile justice
    • program administration
    • international social work

    Social workers are the largest providers of mental health services in the United States, and consequently many MSW social workers are employed in mental health careers.

    » Read: Best masters in social work programs

    MSW practitioners interested in clinical social work can sit for the exam to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). This generally involves at least 3,000 hours of clinical supervision post MSW, but specifics vary across states. Clinical social work is a popular and in-demand field, as many states are experiencing shortages of mental health professionals.

    The profession of social work is growing and expanding as society discovers innovative ways to address social problems and help people in need in new ways.

    The following are examples of some exciting but lesser-known fields of practice for MSWs.

    1. Military Social Work

    military social worker

    Military social workers work with active-duty service members, military families, and veterans to help them access the support services they need and cope with the mental and physical issues related to service. For example, military social workers help with issues related to deployment, combat, or military trauma. They also assist with military-to-civilian life transitions, assist veterans with accessing services, and provide advocacy work for veterans and military families.

    2. Oncology Social Work

    oncology social worker

    Oncology social workers provide emotional, social, and psychological support services to people who have cancer and their family members. They coordinate resources to help individuals and families navigate healthcare systems and understand treatment options and help connect them with financial resources and other services. Oncology social workers are an invaluable part of cancer care teams. They serve as advocates for patients and help support them through the various issues related to a cancer diagnosis and cancer treatment. Oncology social workers also help with palliative care, end-of-life issues, and bereavement.

    3. Police Social Work

    police social worker

    Police social workers or social workers that work in or with police departments are becoming more common across the United States. These social work practitioners often respond with police to provide services to people in need, in crisis, or when situations need to be de-escalated through social work services like crisis counseling or mental health referrals.

    Police social workers respond with police to calls related to domestic violence, suicide, substance abuse, mental health issues, cases where abuse or neglect is or may be present, and when traumatic community events occur. When people’s lives intersect with police, as victims, perpetrators, witnesses, and/or people in need of help, social workers can be invaluable.

    4. Veterinary Social Work


    Veterinary social work is a growing field that involves bridging animal and human welfare to help enhance wellbeing. Veterinary social workers often perform similar duties as medical social workers, linking pet owners to services and resources, assisting with the continuum of care, and helping people cope with issues related to grief and loss. In addition, veterinary social workers may assist with animal-assisted therapy interventions, crisis interventions, and case management and help foster communication between pet owners and veterinary teams. The animal-human bond is powerful and social workers can help people and their pets through times of crisis and stress.

    5. Organ Transplant Social Work


    Transplant social workers are part of organ transplant teams. They work with individuals and families at all phases of the transplant process (pre and post) and assist with emotional support, psychosocial services, financial services, patient education, as well as helping coordinate patient care. Transplant social workers help individuals and families navigate the organ transplant process and connect them with services and resources. They also advocate for patient needs and help with discharge planning, palliative care, end-of-life issues, and bereavement, and are invaluable members of transplant teams.

    6. Forensic Social Work

    Forensic social workers are engaged with issues related to law, criminal justice, and the legal system, including criminal and civil litigation. They provide services related to juvenile and adult justice, and may serve as consultants or expert witnesses. Forensic social workers provide a variety of clinical assessment and other services related to child custody, child and spousal abuse, divorce, mental status, and legally mandated treatment. Forensic social workers may work with law enforcement and elected officials and can serve as important advocates across many levels and with many client systems.

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