Social Workers Bring Help and Hope

For Them, Caring is a Calling

“Never, never, be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

What is it that makes social workers tick? With March being National Social Work Month, we at SPRYTE thought what better time to delve into some of their motivations and inclinations?

For healthcare communicators, who are often tasked with showcasing the conscience of their organization – whether through corporate social responsibility programs, employee communications, or thought leadership initiatives – understanding how and why social workers do what they do can help shine a bright light on the path ahead.

For Episcopal Community Services’ Neibert Richards, MSW, LSW, it was always about caring and people.

“I originally went to school to major in nursing, but soon after I arrived, the school decided to phase out the major,” she recalls. After that, she was undecided as a major. That’s about the time she was introduced to the opportunity presented by social work.

“The biology and all the other classes just weren’t fitting with what I wanted to do,” says Richards. But the idea of helping others was clearly a guiding force.

 

A Caring Tradition

Those roots run deep. Her father was a minister. Her mother, a teacher. There were four children in all. The family moved to the U.S. from Guyana when she was eight.

“Family was always a huge factor for me,” Richards says. “I was always longing for connections, wanting to know who my cousins are. I was the one who always had an issue when someone couldn’t come to be with the family for the holidays.”

Soon after getting her Master’s in Social Welfare, she joined Episcopal Community Services (ECS), where she signed onto the foster care program. Today, 22 years later, she is Director of Permanent Housing at ECS.

 

Changing Times

Over the years, there have been many changes in the way social workers are viewed, she says.

“I think the career path is better organized. Social workers are viewed more as true professionals.” she says.

Hopefully, that view will supplant what Jeanne Morrison, MSW, Support Services Director for Crossroads Hospice & Palliative Care in Philadelphia, says is probably the biggest misperception people have about social workers.

“Lots of times, people use the term ‘social worker’ for someone who is actually a caseworker,” explains Morrison. “Especially in child welfare situations, there is a belief that it’s the social worker who is there to take the child away.  The reality is that the social worker’s goal is to keep families together whenever possible.”

 

Looking at Strengths

Morrison notes that social workers are trained to evaluate clients from a strength standpoint – whether it’s the family, an individual, or a group dynamic. The initial goal is to identify existing strengths that can be built upon to help address certain issues that the client is facing.

She says the effort is a true collaborative partnership between the social worker and the client.

To do that effectively, it’s important “to meet people where they are,” she says. “In order to identify their hopes and plans, you need to understand things from their standpoint. You can’t expect people to come to you. If you do, you’ll get nowhere fast. But if you can understand and meet them where they are, you can start identifying their hopes and dreams from that stanpoint.”

 

Next Generation of Social Workers

Emily Blumenthal is a student at the George Warren Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis currently working toward her degree in social work.

She says the holistic perspective that social workers are trained to utilize is one of the things that led her in this direction.

“As a social worker, you’re trained to look at the environment the individual is in – you need to pay attention to who they’re surrounded by, family, friends, whatever is going on. It’s important to get the whole perspective,” she says.

Blumenthal is currently in the midst of a practicum with Perinatal Behavioral Health Service working with pregnant women with mood disorders or depression, doing screenings and providing information in a clinical setting. Following this, she will move on to another practicum (focus to be determined) that will last about a year. The experience will provide her with a broader base of training and insights that will assist in a future career decision.

She says her ultimate goal is to go into counseling, perhaps working with young adults, couples, and young famiies. But she’s confident that her background and training in social work will enable her to choose from a number of options.

 

Remembering what’s Important

For ECS’ Neibert Richards, that diversity of opportunity is one of social work’s greatest strengths.

“Social workers are a lot of people who care about helping others, giving someone a helping hand to advance to the next stage of life so they can move in a positive direction,” she says.

“They’re the ones, walking the streets, counting the homeless every year for HUD,” Richards explains. “They’re the ones who have no problem going into a home that’s drug-infested, letting someone know that we have a bed here, the kids can come. They’re trying to get them to think beyond this life that they’re in. It isn’t easy for them. Social workers do it because they care.”

For healthcare communicators, when you’re telling your story, caring and people are usually good places to begin as well.

Growing Thought Leaders

Engaging Internal and External Audiences Key

Like growing a lush garden, developing a reputation for your practice or individual physicians as thought leaders takes cultivation. It’s no easy task. No matter how much your physicians know, no matter how impressive their credentials, you have to disseminate that knowledge consistently in a way that will appeal to their peers and other professionals.

The good news is you don’t have to go it alone. By engaging internal audiences such as colleagues and staff, and nurturing relationships with influencers in your specialty, you can create a web of authority around your physician that goes well beyond what you can accomplish individually.

Using the Intermountain Healthcare’s Cardiovascular Clinical Program as an example, Jason Carlton, the organization’s social media manager, shared advice for developing content and guiding docs to become thought leaders during the Public Relations Society of America Health Academy held in Orlando earlier this year.

Conference as Content

The Cardiovascular Clinical Program sought to enhance its reputation as a top-tier research center in order to attract other cardiologists and practices to potentially partner with. The social media manager does this, in part, by leveraging its physicians’ speaking engagements at professional conferences. These events offer a prime opportunity to engage industry peers, and as a result its content – including blogs, video interviews, and posts from “brand ambassadors” – is oriented toward those audiences.

Importantly, Carlton notes, the process should begin well before the conference itself. His recommendations include:

  • Have doctors and staff prep blogs ahead of time to post during the event.
  • Distribute a news release about your participation and key points of your presentation to local press, being mindful of any embargoes from the conference organizer.
  • Distribute the news release on one or more online distribution sites (e.g. EIN, EurekaAlerts) for search engines to find.
  • Repurpose content of the release for tweets to gin up interest in the weeks and days leading up to the event.
  • Set up Google Alerts for your practice and other key terms relevant to your topic or the conference, and save links as they arrive for more shareable content.

During the Conference

The conference floor is ground zero for content gathering. Carlton recommends the following:

  • Live tweet during the conference, particularly during your doctor’s presentation, to deliver up-to-the-minute information to other professionals. Enlist other physicians in your practice, including your brand ambassadors, to do the same.
  • Collect content from other presenters and exhibitors. This might include presentation decks if available, and links to others’ studies and reports. This can all be great shareable content.
  • Gather intelligence for future posts during speeches. Take pictures and get names of the people in them.
  • Be your own media. Conduct video interviews with your physicians and their peers, either in a studio if available or simply in front of your own booth. Share the clips on your practice’s website and social media, or even Facebook Live, using relevant hashtags and handles. Ideally, clips should be 2-3 minutes long.
  • Identify influencers. Frequently, these will be other presenters or workshop leaders. Tweet what they’re saying, including their handles (researched in advance). Follow them and share their posts. They will likely return the favor.

By delivering a steady stream of quality content, you can gain eyeballs of other professionals and unlock potential working opportunities. But the process takes time and effort. If you involve both internal and external resources, and expand your view of what constitutes great content, you’ll go a long way toward building your practice’s expert creds online.