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Alumni Profile: Teal Krech Paynter

Teal Krech Paynter started her career as a journalist but her calling rested with the field of social work. Paynter knew she wanted to work with people, especially underserved populations and during her time at Rutgers, she indeed did.

Paynter is a Master of Social Work (MSW) student at Rutgers University School of Social Work, expected to graduate in December. Also an MSW Fellow in Aging for academic year 2014-2015, Paynter is working to receive her MSW Certificate in Aging.

“Older adults represent a vulnerable population,” she said. “I both personally enjoy spending time with older adults and would like to work with them.”

As part of her fellowship, Paynter did her advanced fieldwork at Carol G. Simon Cancer Center of Morristown Medical Center. She worked to support and empower caregivers of cancer patients, such as by helping them understand the process to apply for disabilities, navigating the hospital, figuring out what forms to fill, and offering one-on-one emotional support.

“As the population ages, there is a big focus on caregivers,” Paynter said. “We know caregiving is stressful, and we know cancer caregivers are a unique population in that they face a lot of unknowns and an uncertain trajectory after a cancer diagnosis. The goal is to use evidence-based interventions to help relieve some of that stress.”

Emily Greenfield, Associate Professor and Faculty Lead for the School’s Programs on Aging, said the fellowship program specifically recruits and selects MSW students who demonstrate a sincere commitment to the field of aging and a strong potential for enacting social work leadership.

What stood out about Paynter’s project was not only her deep curiosity in the issues, but also her conducting the project in a hospital setting.

Greenfield said, “We have been doing leadership projects since 2009, and given the volume of caseloads that are more typical in healthcare, leadership projects in medical centers can be especially challenging. Even the experience of carving out time to do this project is leadership development in itself.”

One of Paynter’s most interesting discoveries while pursuing her fellowship was that leading hospital CEOs are advocating for caregivers to be integrated into the hospital process. Social work’s attention to human relationships as vehicles for change make the profession ideally suited to help lead the way for this paradigm shift in healthcare. .

While the fellowship lasted from September 2014 to May 2015, the final product was a report on ways to strengthen supports for caregivers, which Paynter compiled with the help of Greenfield, Alexis Jemal, a PhD student at the School, and her field supervisor at Morristown Medical Center, Diane Haley, LCSW, OSW-C.

The fellowship paved the way for Paynter to accomplish her goal of working professionally in a hospital setting with older adults, Paynter said, and described it as a “really rich experience.”

“This fellowship will stand out as one of the most important parts of my education at Rutgers,” she said. “Working with cancer caregivers was a privilege and an honor.”

Learn more about Paynter’s project, as well as that of the three other 2014-2015 MSW Fellows in Aging.

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