We're checking in with our students, alumni, faculty, staff, and friends on the front lines of social work during this historic time. We hope their stories will provide many lessons for future generations of social workers. If you would like to share your story, please contact our communications team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We recently had the chance to speak with Jino Gatpandan, a 2019 graduate of our MSW program. He shares how the current global pandemic is affecting him both personally and professionally and shares his advice and encouragement for Rutgers School of Social Work’s Class of 2020.
What are you currently doing for work?
I’m currently a social worker with the University Hospital in Newark. It’s a Level-1 Trauma Center and New Jersey’s only state hospital. I landed the job right after graduation, and it’s been quite a whirlwind so far. I work primarily in Trauma and Surgical Intensive Care. I have lots of responsibilities, including safe discharge planning and helping people navigate through the system. It’s good to know the resources people have access to and how to create a backup plan when those resources aren’t available. The patients, the staff, and the situations they go through are all incredibly diverse, which makes for memorable learning experiences. The people I work with have this nurturing, supportive philosophy that was obvious from day one. It’s a great place to have started my career. After a few weeks on the job, I’ve resolved: “If I can make it there, I can make it anywhere.”
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your work?
I’ve been an LSW for only about 10 months now, so I was in the throes of getting into a routine and learning how to get the job done – and then this happened. The responsibilities still remain the same: assess for needs and safe discharge planning. But getting resources or securing post-acute placement became much more challenging. Government and community/social program offices are either closed or limited in services. The entire continuum of care had to adjust in order to account for the challenges this pandemic brought. There were lots of changes day by day that we social workers and case managers needed to be aware of when this first started, whether it be regarding insurance, post-acute facility admissions, quarantine and shelter placement, etc. A lot of work is done over the phone to conserve PPE and to limit exposure risk. As a social worker (and a person) I love meeting with people in person. We learn that in the helping professions it’s essential to building rapport with clients. But in the interest of the greater good, other methods of communication will have to do. We’re weeks into this, but in no way do I expect things to return exactly the way they were before at any time soon.
Have you noticed any positive things that have come out of the pandemic?
The come-together attitude when this first started was immense. I’m truly awe-inspired by the nurses, nursing assistants, doctors and practitioners, therapists, fellow social workers, support and admin staff that – despite the risks of just walking into the hospital – show up every day and work to get the job done. The selflessness you see in these people is incredible. I try to be their hype-man and praise my colleagues whenever I can: I really hope young ones look up to these people and say that’s what heroes are made of.
I’m most especially proud of my own family members and friends, many of whom are nurses, doctors, and health care professionals. I was always proud of them, but with this pandemic and their resilience and determination to see their patients through, I couldn't be prouder. If the word “inspiration” ever had true physical manifestation, it’d be them.
How has social work prepared you to handle this crisis?
We know health is more than just physical well-being. A person’s world is much more than that, and we learn in Social Work 101 that for especially vulnerable people, social and economic factors play such a huge role in health outcomes. This may sound pretty intuitive for everyone else, but I find that social workers are in this unique position to help address these social and economic issues. Understanding the person in environment (systems theory) is almost always at play for people; the approach is always holistic. We’ll recognize what people need to attain good health: access to healthcare, food and nutritional assistance, job readiness and employment, family and social network stability, etc. Working closely with people on all these fronts is what social workers in all areas do every day.
Are you doing anything specific to help you cope?
Video games! I was never really much of a video game player. I would only watch while my older brother and our friends would play them. I’m a little late to the party, but Zelda: Breath of the Wild has been taking up lots of my free time at home, and given my current pace and skill I’ll probably be done by the anticipated time a vaccine becomes available (current estimate: 12-18 months). I also make sure I throw in a workout here and there. Thank goodness for CrossFit Barbending and online exercise apps for keeping me honest and prepared. Other than all of that, it’s FaceTiming or calling my awesome family in Florida and my friends here, watching shows on Netflix and Amazon Prime, throwing concerts in my car to and from work, and Uber Eats!
What advice would you give to this year’s School of Social Work graduates?
I’m so sorry that your commencement and other end of semester activities got upended. This pandemic has, without a doubt, turned all of our lives around. Just don’t think that for one second you’re not deserving of the pomp and circumstance, because you are. Social workers, I’d say, are silently on the frontline of this pandemic. With normal routines disrupted, loss and trauma happening for thousands worldwide and with our economy at a standstill, you all will be there as a guide, as a resource, as an advocate to help see people through. And that’s no easy feat!
In the many roles I’m sure you’ll fill in the near future, you’ll help the homeless find their basic needs met in a time when resources are becoming scant. You’ll counsel and treat individuals and families through unimaginable and profound grief and loss, and help healthcare providers and first responders process the trauma of witnessing all of this happen before their own eyes. You’ll be tasked with helping people navigate through this “new normal” that no one was prepared for. You’ll make sure the vulnerable are safe and can access the tools they need to survive, just like anyone else can. You’ll see the cracks in our healthcare system now evidently exposed – and you’ll bookmark each one, advocating for change for an eventually fair and just society. You’re going to do so much because the world will look to you all to help with the “what’s next.” And you can especially thank Rutgers School of Social Work for preparing you for this moment.
Congrats class of 2020. I so look forward to working alongside you all as colleagues. I’ll be watching this space, admiring your inevitable achievements and cheering you all on.