It was a pleasure to interview Shelley Craig and Barbara Muskat about hospital social work this week. Their research is published in an article called Bouncers, Brokers, and Glue: The Self-Described Roles of Social Workers in Urban Hospitals. What they have to say will resonate with any social worker who has ever worked in an urban hospital. The findings of their research could pretty much describe hospital social work anywhere in Canada, the US or Australia. Social workers do great work and like the rest of the health workforce are under increasing pressure. Consequently, roles are changing and the profession must get better at articulating the high level of skills possessed by social workers to do what they do on a daily basis. It is important for social workers to take charge of defining their own roles rather than letting others do it for them. In brief, social workers in this study described 7 roles they regularly performed in hospitals in addition to therapeutic work with individuals, groups and families.
1. The Bouncer – Who gets called in to see the ‘difficult’ or distressed patients or families? Enter the social worker who uses assessment, diplomacy, arbitration, mediation, skilled communication and problem solving skills to calm volatile situations.
2. The Janitor – The role taken on when noone else knows what to do with it – filling the void and cleaning up. Finding clothes for a person so they can leave the hospital, housing a pet, or sorting out the car illegally parked outside. The list is endless.
3. The Glue – Social workers hold it all together – the people in hospital, their families and other important people in their lives, the team and the common purpose. Social workers are experts at systems, making linkages and ensuring the right people talk to each other.
4. The Broker – This role involves the active negotiation of service provision and ‘durable discharges’. Durable discharges are those most likely to last. Discharge planning is often misunderstood. It is much more than completing a few tasks or making a few phone calls. It is actually a complex, in-depth process that must meet the unique, individual needs and circumstances of each person leaving hospital or it probably won’t last.
5. The Firefighter – puts out those fires, those urgent and immediate problems that are sometimes created by others.
6. The Juggler – self-explanatory! Multi-tasking at multiple levels.
7. The Challenger – or the advocate. Helping people understand biomedical approaches, making sure their wishes are heard, their needs understood and what is happening to them communicated to them in what can only be described as complicated and often confusing bureaucracies.
Shelley and Barbara talk in depth about social workers in hospitals with me on Podsocs. The podcast is due for release early in 2014 and is guaranteed good listening.