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The Essential Role of Social Workers in Healthcare

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As a professional social worker in healthcare, I have the opportunity to meet many individuals and families who are going through new or significant life-changing health concerns.

These changes can lead to feeling overwhelmed or may lead to mental health concerns that can result in depression, anxiety or some level of stress. In our field, social work services and levels of expertise are not always fully understood and, therefore, aren't necessarily utilized in the most effective ways, or when truly needed.

Social workers recognize the importance of meeting the basic needs of all people, including the most vulnerable or underserved, while also helping to transform communities through advocacy and legislative change.

They help with things like connecting people to helpful resources that can provide basic life support services (such as for food or shelter) or to resources that can help diverse populations of all ages reach important goals in life. For example, a goal may be to improve relationships, cope with life stressors or healthcare treatments, manage mental health care needs, return to work or become active members in their community again (or, for the first time).

Medical social workers are available to help in inpatient and outpatient settings. These specialists are master’s prepared professionals who work closely with multidisciplinary medical teams, including with doctors, nurses and other medical specialists.

Medical social workers serve as an important resource for providing support, education, counseling, encouragement and timely interventions, including when people are in crisis. They can also help patients and families with navigating through the healthcare system during difficult times, which can include sensitive end-of-life discussions and care.

Our social workers here at Ochsner are a vital part of many different medical teams, including in the areas of oncology, transplantation, psychiatry, addictions, complex case management and rehabilitation. We recognize that human potential is unlimited when people are able to understand and honor an individual’s personal strengths and goals.

This level of empathy, combined with clinical social work training, is essential when working with individuals and families who are coping with acute or chronic illness, health care treatment plans, end-of-life care, long-term wellness planning, mental health needs or even the basic life challenges that we are all faced with from day to day.

As a transplant social worker, I work very closely with our medical team members and step in when people are considering organ transplant as a possible treatment option. My role is to educate, encourage, counsel and support patients, caregivers and family members throughout their unique transplant journey and life, including when they may experience a crisis situation before or after transplantation.

Conducting in-depth assessments with patients when they first come in helps me to better understand each person’s unique needs as well as that of the family. It also helps me work more closely with the patient and the medical team to support every patient reaching their ultimate goals, one step at a time.

I was given the opportunity to accept positions in different areas of practice. While the scope of social work practice in the field is wide, I chose one of the most rewarding areas of focus because I get to help others every day in an incredibly meaningful way.

What I did not expect to receive through becoming a medical social worker was the indescribable level of fulfillment in seeing people through their medical, emotional, mental and spiritual journeys, often toward wellness and sometimes toward dying well.

Millions of lives are saved every year because people use important healthcare services in addition to mental healthcare services, and this includes professional social workers as an important resource. Research shows that everyone can benefit from the expertise of social work care at some point in their life.

Learn more about Surveen Klein, LCSW

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