March is Social Work Month! Social workers provide support and guidance when families need it most. Our community has unique social needs, and our social workers work tirelessly to meet them. We are celebrating our social workers by talking to Amanda Wong, LCSW, about what being a social worker means to her.
Amanda worked at Charles B. Wang Community Health Center from 2002 to 2008 as a social work assistant. She earned her Master’s in Social Work from Hunter College, and returned to the Health Center as a licensed social worker in 2010. She is currently a social work supervisor.
What made you decide to pursue social work?
AW: I wanted to be in a profession that helps people, because of my own experiences of growing up as an immigrant. I had the opportunity to work at the Health Center as a social work assistant, and it showed me how I can truly help the needs of immigrant families.
Why is social work important for our patient population?
AW: It is incredibly important. We work to help our patients and their family cope with medical conditions or other life stressors. Many of our patients and clients do not know their rights, or what resources are available to them. We provide our clients with those resources and knowledge so that they can make informed decisions for themselves and their families.
What are challenges specific to serving an immigrant population?
AW: A lot of immigrant families are not able to reach out for help because of language and cultural barriers, or may even feel like reaching out is a sign of a weakness. They may also feel like they just don’t want to bother others with their problems.
We work with low income families who work long hours, and finding time to see their doctors is difficult. It is important for our patients to understand that we provide services regardless of ability to pay. These are the kind of challenges that we work on with them, the importance of their health and the kinds of services we have available to them.
What is a day in the life like for you?
AW: When I come in I check emails and voice mails to see if my clients are in need of immediate help. I spend the morning reaching out to those needs. The rest of the day, I see all kinds of patients with different kinds of medical problems and life stressors. I have clients who have appointments, and I often see patients who are referred on the spot by our doctors. Sometimes I have walk-ins, who may just have a letter or bill in English that they do not understand. A lot of times, our patients come in for something small, but I can quickly uncover a much bigger problem. That is what is so special about social workers—we ask the questions that get to the heart of the real issues. We work closely with our patients and families to address them so that they can be empowered to achieve a better quality of life.
Can you share a time that a small issue turned out to be a much larger issue?
AW: A patient and his mother once came to our office for help with a very simple billing issue from a recent emergency room visit. Turns out the patient was in the hospital for psychiatric reasons. I helped the patient schedule a follow-up visit with his doctor and was able to learn more about his mental health issue from his school and hospital visit. I met with the patient and his mother, and learned that he was very worried about his mother’s well-being after moving away to college. I provided counseling for him and his mother to address his concerns and anxiety. His mother ensured him that she would be fine, since she receives support and medical care from us.
In order to ensure the patient received ongoing mental health care, I referred him to our on-site mental health team for counseling. The patient is currently receiving regular counseling from our mental health team, and his mother meets me regularly to discuss her own health and wellness needs.
Do you have advice for others who want to pursue social work?
AW: You need to have a lot of patience as a social worker. You also need to take care of yourself. When you take care of yourself, you will be the best support to others. Social workers teach clients about self-care, so my advice to aspiring social workers is to make sure you give yourself some self-care time as well.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
AW: Going through a difficult time with my client—no matter what the outcome is—is incredibly rewarding. Just being there for them through the process of a difficult time is rewarding. We can’t fix everyone and everything, but we can be a support during life’s challenges.
When someone says to me “Thank you for being there when I was too overwhelmed to make a decision”, or “Thank you for being with me during my time of crisis”, I know that I have chosen a rewarding job.
I wish I had a social worker when my family was struggling as new immigrants! But then again, I am glad for my experiences. It is because of them that I know how important this work is. It is why I chose social work.