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How Social Workers Can Build Change

By Ashley Cutler, LCSW-C

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the social work profession is expected to grow 12% from 2020-2030, faster than the average for other occupations (1). During the pandemic, social workers got an opportunity to show why they are an important and necessary profession, yet they were frequently left out of the conversations about essential workers. Historically, social workers have been viewed negatively and it continues in current times. Social work is often misunderstood and blamed for system restraints in services, which can limit social workers’ ability to adequately do their job. Most people have a narrow image of social workers and don’t know what social workers actually do on a regular basis. Social workers bring a unique perspective to the healthcare sector. They pay attention to the unsaid and unnoticed. They look to see the deeper meanings connected to a person’s thought process and behavior. They observe the social and emotional factors that can impede someone’s healing and access to services.

The profession itself stands for the core values of service, social determinants, dignity and worth of people, integrity, competence, and importance of human relationships (2). Social workers are expected to aspire to embody these ethical principles in their daily lives and social work practice. Often they are referred to as the voice for the patients and their families because one of the important roles of a social worker is to be an advocate for patients, especially vulnerable populations. A social worker can occupy many different roles in healthcare because they adapt to the needs of individual patients and frequently serve in multiple roles for each individual patient. The most common roles in the healthcare sector are areas of patient counseling and education, coordination of care, treatment and discharge planning, case management, advocacy, emotional support, crisis intervention, and monitoring of progress.

Meeting people where they are and based on their needs helps increase the chances of providing individualized care. If you’re working with a social worker, you’ll notice they will ask lots of questions. The questions help to assess the patient’s needs, learn about the patient’s experience, and gain the patient’s point of view. Assessments help the social worker to develop a more comprehensive plan for helping each patient. Providing person-centered care has become a standard in the social work profession. If the environment and social aspects are overlooked when addressing health, we would only see a fragmented picture of people’s lives and as a result, do more harm than good. It leads to missing and overlooking important and necessary information. Even though there is plenty of information available about the importance of relationships with patients, existing organizations/systems are still struggling with engaging patients and families in the treatment process (3). Patient engagement and education are correlated to better outcomes for patients. Collaboration with patients promotes shared decision making, listening to patient feedback, and active participation in their care (3).

Why is social work necessary for team based care? Social workers are trained with skills aligned with recommendations for best practices in healthcare. Although social workers are not an expert in everything, they are experts in people. Social workers are great people to have on your team. Combining social work with coaching in a team based care will have many benefits. The social work profession emphasizes the importance of collaboration and teamwork. Social workers can fill in the gaps between other healthcare workers and serve as connectors who can keep the lines of communication open with both the team and the patient. The qualities and strengths of a social work professional are assets and have been shown to support and aid with team success. Active listening, humility, intuition, empathy, critical thinking, interpersonal intelligence, patience, professional competence, cultural competence, authenticity, and ability to problem solve are all vital qualities to have as a social worker. In addition to these qualities, it is important to have people on your team, who advocate for policies promoting social determinants for patients and challenge systemic inequity. With all that being said, social workers know they need support too and are much stronger with working with other experts. Given supportive environments, I do believe social workers would thrive. Benefits of team based care in healthcare include: less recurrent hospitalizations and unexpected admissions, increased service accessibility, more efficient use of healthcare services and resources, increased patient satisfaction and job satisfaction for healthcare professionals, increased acceptance of treatment, and better quality of care with healthier outcomes (4).

This is why RADECTHealth is adopting a model of team based care. Having a team will allow the healthcare professionals to provide quality care for you without becoming burnt out. RADECTHealth strives to increase health equity and give people an opportunity to be involved in their health journey. Now that you have more information about why team based care would be helpful for you and how a social worker can support you, we hope this will inspire you to join us as we work to create change in the healthcare system. We would love to help you achieve your goals and truly take care of your health.

(1) Bureau of Labor Statistics (2022). U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Social Workers.

(2) National Association of Social Workers (NASW) (2022). Read the Code of Ethics.

(3) HealthCatalyst (2021, May 18). Drive Better Outcomes with Four Data-Informed Patient Engagement Tactics.

(4) Babiker, A., El Husseini, M., Al Nemri, A., Al Frayh, A., Al Juryyan, N., Faki, M. O., Assiri, A., Al Saadi, M., Shaikh, F., & Al Zamil, F. (2014). Health care professional development: Working as a team to improve patient care. Sudanese journal of pediatrics, 14(2), 9–16.

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