Health Beat: What to know about social work

Published 10:00 am Friday, March 19, 2021

By Savannah Reed | Marion L. Shepard Cancer Center

March is Social Work Month. This is a great opportunity to educate the community about who social workers are and what they do.

When most people think of social work, their mind goes to the Department of Social Services and those working in child welfare. However, there are many different places that social workers can be found. These assumptions and the stigma surrounding social workers can actually be harmful because it can prevent some people from seeking assistance that would prove beneficial. Social workers play a vital role in the community and are essential to improving the well-being of individuals and the community. Social workers can work directly with individuals, families and groups or have a more hands off approach and work in the development of policy.

Social workers are professionals who aim to enhance the overall well-being of the individuals and the communities that they serve. These workers help their clients meet the basic and complex needs of the people they serve. Social workers work to assist people who are struggling with a variety of challenges. This can vary from short-term solutions to solutions that last a lifetime. The type of services a client receives depends on the diagnosis, situation, severity, and an array of other factors. Social workers fight for those who may not have the appropriate resources on hand to help themselves.

There is much confusion about where social workers work and what they do. Social workers have many different roles and responsibilities that can vary drastically on the location, setting, and population that they work. Some common duties of a social worker include advocacy, assessment and treatment, discharge planning, case management, connecting clients to resources, and providing individual or group therapy. This also includes screening for mental health disorders, connecting families to food banks, arranging transportation to doctor’s appointments, and even coordinating for equipment that one may need after they leave the hospital.

Social workers work in a variety of agencies and settings. Dues to the vast variety of services social workers offer, roles will vary tremendously based on placement. Social workers are often in community health centers, homeless shelters, hospitals, inpatient and outpatient clinics, correctional institutions, schools, substance use rehabilitation facilities, private therapy practices, mental health clinics, the DSS, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and a variety of other agencies. That is just a short list of places that social workers are found.

However, not all social workers work directly with clients. Some social workers work in what is called macro social work. Macro social workers address social problems at the local, state, national, and international levels. This can include working with community members as part of research or interventions designed to address large-scale problems affecting the community. Many macro social workers work with issues related to education, poverty, hunger, crime, violence, or orphaned populations. These workers often do not work face-to-face with individual clients but provide an essential service. These workers are essential in helping communities identify needs, design interventions, and implement strategies designed to improve the quality of life for the individuals within the community.

Specifically, in a medical setting, you may find social workers in outpatient and inpatient cancer centers, dialysis centers, hospitals, emergency rooms, psychiatric units, transplant centers, nursing homes, rehabilitative centers, and home-care services (home health and hospice). Social workers here may be working in case management or discharge planning, as well as providing therapeutic services. Social workers can provide emotional support and therapy to patients and their family members who are experiencing emotional distress. These workers can also coordinate services for the patient, which will benefit them before, during, or after treatment. In some cases such as cancer care, social workers can assist patients with transportation or applying for medication assistance programs. Most members of the community are unaware of the services and resources that are available to them. If you need further assistance, do not be afraid to ask the health care staff to connect you to a social worker.

Savannah Reed is an Intern at the Marion L. Shepard Cancer Center in Washington pursuing her master’s degree in social work from East Carolina University.