Nurses: Is Social Work the Path for You?

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Nursing and Social WorkYou probably already know that there are lots of shared skills between nurses and social workers. Often times, their duties overlap in the hospital or clinical environment. And, many core skills inherent in one career path can also greatly benefit the other.

Similarities between social workers and nurses

For example, nurses are trained to understand the physiological aspects of health problems, and social workers focus on the psychosocial. But knowing the psychosocial reasons behind a health condition can greatly help a nurse’s practice, and vice versa. In short, finding a profession where you can use both contextual understandings could be the exact experience you’re seeking.

Making the switch from nurse to social worker doesn’t have to be a massive effort — there are lots of ways to learn more, and see if it’s the career move for you.

How you approach pursuing social work as a nurse depends on your career stage. If you’re in school, you’ll need to decide which type of degree first or whether you want to pursue both degrees at the same time through a dual program. Programs that incorporate both are growing in numbers, but they’re still not very common. If there’s not a dual degree program available to you, consider that BSN or MSN programs are closely aligned with social work programs at many schools. Often times they’re under the same umbrella of college of health sciences.

There’s a strong argument for pursuing a nursing-related degree first, because your job offer options will probably be more numerous and lucrative. Nurses typically have higher starting salary levels than social workers. So if your monthly costs are high or you live in an expensive area, it may make more sense to pursue a nursing degree first and plan on easing into a social work role later on.

Consider a nurse social worker practitioner degree

If you’re already working as a nurse, you can pursue additional education to become a social worker. Typically this is done through going back to school for a BSW or MSW. Depending on the educational level you’ve already got under your belt, you may not have to complete the full course load for a new degree. You can also go for an advanced nursing practitioner (NP) degree that incorporates elements of social work, like an NP degree in psychiatric nursing.

But you can also make the transition by taking on different nursing roles that incorporate social work practice into their duties. There are many nursing positions that conduct social work as a part of their role, for example those who work in discharge planning or ER case management.

Options for learning on-the-job

You can also make the transition by taking on different nursing roles that incorporate social work practice into your duties or by exposing yourself to a social worker’s environment. For example:

  • Transfer to a position that conducts social work as a part of the role, such as those who work in discharge planning or ER case management.
  • Sign up for a program that formally pairs nurses with social workers, like a home-visit or integrated care program. Working closely one-on-one with a licensed social worker will give you a strong sense of the realities of the role, and provide you with a built-in mentor who can answer your questions and give you inside information.
  • Volunteer in a community center, care-focused nonprofit or program focused on youth or the elderly to gain exposure to social workers and their typical workdays. You can also utilize some of your nursing skills at the same time.

Making the switch from nurse to social worker doesn’t have to be a massive effort — there are lots of ways to learn more, and see if it’s the career move for you.

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