Summer Intern Experiences

August 28, 2019

Danielle Crawford is a sophomore at Morgan State University, where she is studying social work. She spent the summer working at the Berman Institute, where she shadowed social workers and learned about ethical issues they face in their practice. Each summer, the Berman Institute welcomes a high school or college student to work on bioethics issues via the Johns Hopkins Summer Jobs Program.

 


 

I am Danielle Crawford, a summer Intern at the Berman Institute of Bioethics through the Johns Hopkins Summer Jobs Program. I am writing to share about my experience this summer interviewing social workers and sharing how ethics relates to their work. Through this experience, I learned how bioethics relates to social work.

 

Clinical social workers are responsible for connecting with the patients and their families. They are the people who help guide them before, during, and after a procedure in the hospital. They communicate with a team of medical professionals to advocate for the best interest of the patient. They provide resources for the patients and their families to assure a healthy transition from the hospital to back home.

 

Social Workers are also responsible for the discharge of the patients, making sure they go back to a stable environment, so that they can heal. Social workers are important in a hospital setting because they help connect the patient with a team of doctors, nurses, and surgeons to come to a common goal for the patient. They advocate for the patient and their families to help the rest of the medical team understand their point of view as a patient. Social workers connect patients with different resources outside of the hospital such as shelters, child protective services, health care, police, housing and much more, to help the patient and their family with their needs before discharge.

 

Nevertheless, some ethical issues arise for social workers while doing their jobs.  For example, they must balance patient privacy with an obligation to report crime. For example, I met with Ms. Simone Thompson, the coordinator for Child Protection Team, who is obligated to report crimes that are committed against children, even by their parents or guardians. It is then her job to get the child to a more stable environment. She is in charge of making the tough decision to report crimes that effect the wellbeing of the patient and others even though it might interfere with the privacy rights of the patient. For example, if a child comes in with bruises, she will automatically evaluate the child and interview with the parents or guardian to see if there are any signs of abuse in or out of the home. If there are, it is her responsibility to report it to the proper authorities, even though medical records are usually confidential.

 

Situations like these can cause social workers to suffer from burnout. Burnout is the natural exhaustion from working in an unhealthy environment or in an environment that causes moral distress. Burnout effects your work experience as well as your personal life outside of work. Being burned out can take a toll on your work experience by not being able to give your best effort or make sound decisions while you are at work. In an article I read by Cynda Rushton about Burnout in a hospital setting, I learned how Burnout can affect your ability to work with your team, as well as with patients and their families. Situations of moral distress can result in feelings of frustration, anger and even guilt about your work or work environment. This can even lead to the feeling of a loss of integrity, compromised moral judgement, and the inability to make sound decisions.  This is a widespread problem in health care for nurses, doctors, surgeons and even social workers.

 

Social workers overcome moral distress by consulting the National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics handbook, taking time to reflect and learn from what is happening, seeking supervision, and reviewing the state and federal laws. Sometimes, they have to be able to put their emotions and personal opinions aside and work for the good of the patient. They have to be able to do what will benefit the patient. Other ways social workers overcome moral distress is by considering the views of the patient, and by trying to treat everyone fairly. Ms. Krista Strantz, the social worker for Cardiac and Vascular Unit, shared how balancing your day is one way to reduce burnout. She created a healthy routine for her work day and for her commute to and from the hospital. She sticks to this routine because it makes her day easier. Other healthy ways of dealing with Burnout could be joining support groups, creating a healthy environment at work to voice opinions about burnout and the issues in the department that cause distress, and being flexible and responsive in difficult situations.

 

The social workers that I met with do enjoy their jobs very much. They feel rewarded by helping people and their families. Being social workers, they enjoy seeing people succeed and reach their goals. They feel that there is nothing else they would rather do. Further, they enjoy the flexibility of the job and how every day is different. In having this experience to interview three social workers in the medical field, I am even more fascinated. As a student of social work, I knew I was interested in working in a hospital. Speaking with these social workers, I learned that the field is very broad. Working in a hospital you are able to work with different populations that have different needs. Another thing that interests me about social work is the flexibility of the job. Each social worker shared how each day is different and they are never bored, they enjoy the challenge and being a part of benefitting a patient’s life. For this reason, I hope to seek out opportunities to work with different populations from children, elderly, substance abuse patients and many more to see which is well-suited for me. Working at the Berman Institute I learned how bioethics applies to this career. Being aware of issues like moral distress and burnout will help me improve on decision making and consider ethics throughout my career.

 

Image: SHERRIE LYNNE FORNOFF

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