Social Workers in healthcare are unique from just about any other social work field. Their job is to help our patients and their families navigate the physical, emotional and financial struggles of living with acute or chronic medical conditions. To celebrate Social Work Month, we talked to clinical social worker Yuyuan Zheng, LMSW, who has supported patients at Charles B. Wang Community Health Center at our Flushing site for the past 3 years.
DN: What made you choose medical work in the healthcare field?
YZ: When I decided to go into social work, I did not know that I would end up in clinical social work. What drew me to Charles B. Wang Community Health Center was the opportunity to work with vulnerable Asian American populations. However, when I started, I found that clinical social work is about so many aspects of a person’s wellbeing. We do case management, care coordination, crisis interventions, counseling cases and support groups. I am also much more knowledgeable about medical terms, conditions and diagnosis since working with a range of healthcare professionals.
DN: What is medical social work?
YZ: A social worker that works in a healthcare setting collaborates with a medical team to best serve their clients. We work alongside family members, doctors, nurses, occupational therapists, physical therapists and more to ensure our patients are receiving the spectrum of care that meets their specific needs. Most of the medical social workers at the Health Center have a masters degree in social work and are NY State licensed social work practitioners. Much of my job is coordinating the whole team to support the medical, emotional and social needs of our patients and their families.
DN: What is the population of clients and patients that you serve, and what are their needs?
YZ: The majority of our patients are low income, uninsured patients that face language and cultural barriers to accessing medical care. Some of our patients are undocumented. Many of the patients have specific needs—like cancer support, chronic disease management, home care, or other issues like needing support for emotional and financial hardships. Some patients are referred to me because they are domestic violence victims, because they become disabled due to chronic medical conditions, or because they are kids with special needs requiring extra support and resources.
DN: What are challenges in working in medical social work?
YZ: I am always learning how to be a better communicator! Communication can be challenging. Every person on the medical team has their own perspective on the needs of a patient. When I say medical team, I also mean the patient and their family. I have to work hard to reconcile the perspectives of each member of the team. For example, a patient may not communicate with the doctor about his home care needs. I have to be a patient advocate, but also communicate to a patient what the team believes is best for them. At the end of the day we all want the same thing—what is best for the patient.
DN: Can you tell me about a rewarding experience as a social worker at the Health Center?
YZ: There are too many. My job is very rewarding. I recently received a phone call from a patient who has been struggling with years of depression but had never sought out help. She wanted to cancel her initial appointment with me. She sounded a little bit hesitate over the phone, and I simply identified her feelings and said to her, “I hear you are a little bit nervous. I just want to make sure, are you OK?” She ended up meeting with me, and expressed that it was my caring approach that gave her the courage to seek help. She is now receiving the correct treatment and care she needs, and is feeling more hopeful. This patient made me feel that my job is really important and meaningful. It reminded me to always take that extra step with our patients, because you never know what you say or do that may change a person’s life!
Thank you for being an incredible support to our patients, Yuyuan. Happy Social Work Month!