Whether you are admitted to a hospital, or seeking the medical attention from a community health service, there are times when personal or social difficulties are all tangled up with your actual health issue.
Sometimes those issues may seem overwhelming and seemingly unsolvable.

Sure. But these other things aren’t ‘health’ issues are they?

Absolutely they are. And in these situations, social workers are often your locksmiths to humanity.

They can ensure you get access to the right support and care, and co-ordinate access to services to help with issues including:

  • Navigating the health system.
  • Linking to other relevant organisations.
  • Financial assistance.
  • Drug, alcohol and gambling addiction problems.
  • Housing issues.
  • Facilitating difficult family conversations.
  • Caring for other family members or pets.
  • Problems with depression or other mental health issues.

OK. But can’t a nurse or someone do that? I don’t think I need to see a social worker.

Social workers have a much more specialised knowledge of strategies and available resources.
I can say that working as an emergency department nurse, whenever there was a crisis, or tragedy, or complex management issue that I was really struggling with, one of my first calls for help would go to the social work department.

And you don’t need to be in a crisis to benefit from social work help. They can assist with many of those nagging little issues that collectively are adding to your stress at this time.

Here, a group of social workers talk about why they were drawn to this field.

So what exactly does a social worker do?

They are patient advocates, counsellors, organisers, listeners and gateways to many of the support services and networks (both in the hospital and community) that may be of help to you.

You will usually find social workers engaging with the health system on two fronts.
First working with the individual patient or healthcare consumer (as well as their families, support groups and communities) to improve their wellbeing.

Second, at a systems level, working with issues of inequality, injustice and discrimination. They are also very active in social policy, leadership, management, research and education roles.

Here is a really good definition from their professional body:

The social work profession facilitates social change and development, social cohesion, and the empowerment and liberation of people. Principles of social justice, human rights, collective responsibility and respect for diversities are central to social work. Underpinned by theories of social work, social sciences, humanities and indigenous knowledges, social work engages people and structures to address life challenges and enhance wellbeing. — AASW

Social worker may also take their skills ‘under cover’ adopting other titles in specific healthcare environments.
For example, you might find them working as child safety officers, or case workers in family support programs, or consultants advising agencies on best practice principles or in the mental health specialty working as allied health clinicians (Accredited Mental Health Social Workers).

OK. But do they actually have any professional qualifications?

Social workers have completed a Bachelor of Social Work or Masters of Social work from an accredited university.
Or they have competed an equivalent social work qualification outside Australia and have been assessed by their professional body (the AASW) as eligible to practice.

How do I get in touch with one if I need to?

Thats simple. Just ask.
If you are in hospital ask any of the medical staff to arrange a consultation.

If you are at home use this excellent online search directory to find a social worker in your location and for your particular problem.


Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW).

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