In addition to teaching courses at the Rutgers University School of Social Work, including "Loss Across the Lifespan," Carol Pepe is the Director of Case Management Services at Trinitas Regional Medical Center. Trinitas is located in Elizabeth, NJ, and Carol has worked there for the past 10 years. Carol has both an LCSW and a master degree in public health. Below, Carol shares insight regarding hospital social work based on her experiences.
WHAT DOES SOCIAL WORK PRACTICE IN A HOSPITAL ENTAIL?
A hospital is an acute medical setting where social workers are employed as part of an interdisciplinary team. Social workers make assessments on high-risk cases or cases referred to them by other staff, the patient, or the patient's family. Based on the assessment and consultation with other team members, social workers must determine an appropriate plan of care for the patient upon discharge and then help to implement that plan. Examples of discharge plans involving older adults are discharging to an acute rehab, a sub-acute rehab, a nursing home for long-term care, or creating a care plan for at-home care. Social workers in a hospital often work with patients and families who are in crisis, trying to figure out how they are going to manage after their discharge. Facilitating that discharge plan and reassuring patients and their families are aspects that Carol really likes about working in a hospital.
WHAT SPECIAL REQUIREMENTS DOES SOCIAL WORK PRACTICE IN A HOSPITAL ENTAIL?
In a hospital, social workers must be prepared to work on a team with other disciplines, such as physicians, nurses, physical therapists, and speech therapists. Learning about other disciplines and gaining medical knowledge is one of Carol's favorite parts of hospital social work. However, working on an interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary team can be challenging, and Carol cautions that is not for everybody. Social workers in a hospital must be able to work in a fast-paced and stressful environment. Carol stresses that social workers must be able to handle a high volume of work and leave at the end of the day possibly not feeling accomplished because there will always be more to do. It is also important for hospital social workers to be skilled at mediating conflicts, such as when staff and family members disagree over a patient's discharge plan. As with other social work positions, social workers in hospital settings must be able to handle a stressful environment and know how to take care of themselves and relax.
WHEN AND HOW SHOULD ONE GO ABOUT FINDING A JOB AT A HOSPITAL?
According to Carol, the first place to look for a job opening is on a particular hospital's website because that is often where jobs are posted first. Potential applicants can also check their local newspapers, such as The Star Ledger and employment sites like Monster.com. Carol advises that job seekers should apply electronically when available. Going on interviews is always good practice and a great learning experience, and Carol recommends being open to different positions. However, she cautions against applying for jobs that are definitely not of interest because interviewers will sense that and be frustrated by the feeling that their time is being wasted.
WHAT DO HIRING MANAGERS LOOK FOR IN APPLICANTS?
In a resume, Carol suggests being organized and ensuring that dates are correct, being prepared to discuss any gaps in employment. Any recent irrelevant social work experience can be included, but Carol advises against including non-recent irrelevant experience. Carol stresses that in a job interview, it is extremely important for the applicant to be honest. According to Carol, "After you've interviewed people for a long time, you can tell someone who is just saying what they think sounds good as opposed to an honest answer." She stresses that if you do not know the answer, it is ok to say so; a great answer would be "I don't know how I would handle that situation, but I would consult with my supervisor immediately." Applicants should also research the organization and ask relevant questions, such as those concerning the hospital's population. For example, Trinitas hospital is in Elizabeth, which has a large immigrant population. Asking how Trinitas handles cases with uninsured illegal immigrants is an appropriate question showing insight into the organization, whereas the question may less applicable at an organization in an affluent area. Applicants in a hospital setting should at least have a license pending; while they may be hired while waiting for a license, they will not be able to practice without one. Anyone hired while a license is pending will lose the position if they do not obtain their license, so it is very important to take the LSW exam as soon as possible.