Medical social work originated during the Progressive Era when settlement house workers began offering public education on personal hygiene and other health related topics (DiNitto &McNeece, 2008, pg. 194).
Medical social workers recognize the connection between patients’ biological, psychological, and social conditions. Medical social workers act as liaisons between the hospital and community resources in order to “connect the hospital with all the social forces and helpful agencies outside its walls” (DiNitto &McNeece, 2008, pg. 194).
Social workers often help individuals and family members struggling with decisions to prolong or end care. They also serve on hospital ethics committees that address these difficult issues (DiNitto &McNeece, 2008, pg. 196).
Medial social workers incorporates three theoretical perspectives that are the foundation of all social work practice: the biopsychosocial model, a strengths perspective, and multilevel practice (DiNitto &McNeece, 2008, pg. 200).
The biopsychosocial model sees the patient holistically, acknowledging the connections among the patient’s health, psychological state, family situation, employment, financial status, culture, religion, and neighborhood conditions (DiNitto &McNeece, 2008, pg. 201).
The strengths approach acknowledges the resources within the individual and in his or her environment. It invites each patient’s participation in his or her own treatment plan. Instead of viewing patients as victims of their disease or disability, the focus of the strengths approach is on their inherent ability to survive and even thrive in the face of adversity (DiNitto &McNeece, 2008, pg. 201).
Medical social work was the first specialization area in the social work profession. Medical social workers were the first members of the profession to work in what has come to be called a secondary setting, where providing social work services is not the organization’s primary function (DiNitto &McNeece, 2008, pg. 203).
Medical social workers are educated to maneuver within systems, to advocate needed changes on a patient’s behalf, as well as substantial changes needed to address health care in national and international arenas. The main goal of medical social workers is to improve access to health and health literacy of all people regardless of background.(DiNitto &McNeece, 2008, pg. 214).