Healthcare social work is a specialty in the field of social work that concentrates on helping people access healthcare services and education. The main objective of healthcare social work is to have clients achieve and maintain a state of optimal health to be able to function in their daily lives. To achieve this, healthcare social workers practice in collaboration with other members of the interdisciplinary team, including physicians and nurses. According to Gehlert & Browne (2012), owing to constant restructuring of the hospital setting, the roles of healthcare social workers may vary from one environment to another. While in some contexts, social workers continue to hold the primary role of discharge planning, in others, social workers focus on the psychosocial care of the patients. Nevertheless, in whatever setting, healthcare social workers act as client advocates, advisors, educators, coordinators of care and strive to preserve the dignity and safety of the population they serve.
Healthcare social workers play active roles in helping patients to navigate the world of healthcare. Social workers have a wide scope with regards to assisting patients, a scope that extends from finding the medical care to helping the patients in accessing avenues for paying the medical bills. While preparing to work with individuals and families, health care workers must consider both the physical, physiological and psychological needs of their patients. In my first year in the social work program, I did my internship at Harlem hospital working under the supervision of a palliative care supervisor in the AICU unit. During this period, before planning the care of the patient, I analyzed the background of the patient’s health in preparation to assessing the physical, physiological and psychological needs of the patient. This preparation was critical in informing the immediate needs of the patient and how best these needs could be met.
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After finishing my internship in the AICU unit, I was moved to the burns unit, medical unit, surgery unit, and rehab unit respectively. In all these units, a quick check on the cultural background and the cultural expectations was an instrumental part of my preparation before working with an individual or the family. This implies that a social worker must assess the expectation of the individual patients and the family in preparation to work with them. According to Gehlert & Browne (2012), hospital social workers must be infinitely skilled at quickly assessing all the variables, which include the patient’s mental status, emotional status, the family dynamics, the patient’s needs and the staff’s agenda in seeking social work consultation. Having social information about the patient enables social workers to be culturally sensitive and meet the cultural expectations of the patients. This approach equally enables the patients to be more cooperative thus easing the duties of a social worker (Forrester, Westlake, & Glynn, 2012).
While coordinating community services such as home health care, medical equipment rentals, transportation to follow-up doctor visits, and other related activities, social workers prepare psychologically to meet the challenges that might be present in the course of duty while at the same time, ensure smooth coordination of activities to meet the objectives of the day. When working in the rehab unit, we worked as a team to introduce the rehabilitated patients to the community by contacting the community leaders and the patients’ kin to ensure there is a smooth coordination between the patient’s exit from the hospital and his/her integration in the community.
For effective coordination of patient care both in hospitals and in the community, it is critical for a social worker to have various skills. Gehlert & Browne (2012), states that a social worker should be comfortable dealing with unknowns, working quickly and adjusting to patient cues. Therefore, to attain this level of comfort, a social worker must have good listening skills, must be a problem solver, must be a critical thinker, must have effective organization skills, and must have high levels of patience (Lacey, 2005). According to Gehlert & Browne (2012), having these skills would enable a social worker to effectively assess the family’s social situation, dynamics and capacity to cope with the illness, hospitalization, and treatment as well as clarify and address the conflicts that might arise between the providers and the patient. Working at Harlem Hospital, I was able to assess my skills and found myself in possession of good communication and coordination skills. Having these skills enhanced my effectiveness in assessing the needs of my patients and collaborating with other members of the healthcare team to plan for the management of the patients. However, as a social worker, I think inter-professional conflict would be the main challenge when practicing in a healthcare environment. Nevertheless, being in a position to impact positively and directly to the lives of the patients would be the reward of working in a healthcare environment.
- Forrester, D., Westlake, D., & Glynn, G. (2012). Parental resistance and social worker skills: Towards a theory of motivational social work. Child and Family Social Work, 17, 118–129.
- Lacey, D. (2005). Nursing home social worker skills and end-of-life planning. Soc Work Health Care, 40, 19–40.
- Sarah Gehlert and Teri Browne. (2012).Handbook of Health and Social Work (2nd ed.)