Thursday, August 26, 2010


Typically fieldwork placements are designed to help a future social worker experience an aspect of the field outside of their specialization. Since I applied to grad school knowing I wanted to focus on health care, I assumed I'd be placed in a school. However, since I'd worked in residential care during my senior year of college, they must have thought I'd had enough. (This is also, incidentally, the only reason I believe I got into my long-shot school.)

I was placed at the local county health department in their pre-natal and family planning clinics. Before I could start, my supervisor hauled me in to make sure I would be OK with doing options counseling. Some people feel so strongly about the issue that they would try to sway the client in one direction or another, which is the opposite of options counseling. I'm a fairly non-judgmental person and I have fully grasped that what's right for me might be wrong for you. I knew that I could be non-biased when it came to options counseling. My supervisor was appeased and I was allowed to start my placement. I learned a lot that year. I can hold my own in any conversation about pregnancy and birth control- a plus when it comes to my pregnant and married friends. At the top of list: what bad supervision looks like. While I met some great people and feel like I did make a difference with some of my clients, especially the girls I followed in the Teen Parent program, I walked away knowing that it wasn't for me. I was resolute in my desire to be a medical social worker and pressed on toward my goal to work with children with cancer. Seven years later, that dream came true.

What is interesting in all of this is that your fieldwork experience can show up in your present workplace.

A 15 yo girl with Sickle Cell came to clinic. I met with her, did a basic assessment, and began establishing rapport. She's a delightful girl and hopes to be a Sickle Cell doctor someday. I moved on to see some other kids at clinic when I received a page. The 15 yo girl had a positive pregnancy test. And so I went back to the exam room and sat with her.

Tears silently sliding down her face, nose running, vacant expression. Dazed. Shocked.

Slowly I was able to learn the details. Slowly I was able to help her decide who she would tell and when. Slowly I presented the options to her. Then I let her know she didn't need to make a decision today. Yet, some changes would be made. In case she decided to continue with the pregnancy, she needed to stop taking her hydroxyurea. If she decided to continue with the pregnancy, she would be considered high-risk and would need to see an ob/gyn as soon as possible.

I wondered what she would decide. She would need to think about how a baby would impact her life. Who would watch him or her while she was at school? Would the father contribute financially? What about her career goals? Maybe adoption would be a better option. There are so many more options with adoption now- open, closed. She could still be a part of the child's life if she wanted to be. How would it feel to watch someone else raise your child? Grateful, perhaps, but maybe sometimes jealous or regretful? Or perhaps she would decide to terminate the pregnancy. It was early enough that no one at school would ever know. She could graduate, go to college, medical school, whatever she wanted. Only, she would still know. Would she feel guilty? Would she wonder about this little one and who he or she would have grown up to be?

It turns out I was the perfect social worker for this girl. My options counseling training came right back to me, as if I'd been in the health department the day before. I can't say what she decided to do because that's not really the point. I only know that we can't escape our backgrounds or training. And while I never expected my time in the health department to make a big difference in my professional repertoire, today it did.

1 comment:

karen gerstenberger said...

That is a great illustration of what a friend of mine says: "Nothing is wasted." That training, which seemed unrelated to your present job, was a gift for that precious patient. I am so thankful she was/is in your care.