Since March is Social Work Month, it is the perfect time to talk about social workers who work in the Colorado health care field. As one of those social workers, I often get asked get asked the question, “So what exactly IS a “medical social worker?” There are many variations to the answer to this question and, generally, theyʼre all correct.
Medical social workers are present in settings along the entire spectrum of the health care “experience”, always working within an integrated-care system. We are involved in prenatal care and the preparation for a familyʼs development when women are admitted to the hospital prior to giving birth. Weʼre present for the development of that child and family, sometimes both in the pediatricianʼs ofﬁce and in the hospital. We work in primary care doctorsʼ ofﬁces with people throughout their adolescent and adult lives, as well as in specialty-care ofﬁces, hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, home health care agencies, and hospice organizations. We also work with people in the later stages of life who live in long-term care facilities, assisted living centers, and nursing homes.
I work as a licensed clinical social worker in a primary care and gynecology clinic that houses a residency program. We provide primary care and gynecology services for patients 13 and older, and also participate in the education and training of intern and resident doctors during their 3-year post-medical school residency. In my role, I act as a case manager, a resource navigator, a program advocate, and a community agency liaison. I also act as an educator, a conﬁdant, a “listening ear”, a source of encouragement (for both my clients and my colleagues), and a member of an integrated care team that strives to provide holistic care for our patients.
Throughout my 5 1/2 years at the clinic, Iʼve had patients that both challenge and excite me. Iʼve personally experienced the difﬁculties and emotional hardship that come when you canʼt do “enough” for a patient. Iʼve also had patients who have thanked me profusely for things that I quietly consider to be “small” in nature. My daily work repeatedly reminds me that the value of what I do is not determined by the number of patients I see, or the number of referrals I make. Rather the value lies in the reaction of my patients to the “help” I attempt to provide, and the effect that our interactions have on their daily lives and mine.
Medical social workers participate in activities that range from planning safe and appropriate hospital discharges for patients, to providing ongoing treatment of ailments ranging from mental health needs to medical and social-support needs. We do all of this while attempting to keep in mind the personal needs and desires of each and every client we come into contact with. Medical social workers are an integral, though sometimes behind-the-scenes, part of the health care system in Colorado.
-Leanne Clark, MSW, LCSW, Board of Directors, National Association of Social Workers: Colorado Chapter