Monthly Archives: June 2015

10 Things I Learned From My First Year as a Social Worker

June 1st officially marked the end of my first year as a social worker. If you don’t know much about medical social work, check out this post. It’s been a rough year in many ways, but it’s also been one that resulted in significant growth for me, both professionally and personally. I was reflecting on the past year and decided I want to share a few things I learned in my first year as a social worker.

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1. Expect the unexpected. From personally delivering (aka riding) a motorized scooter to a patient’s room to being screamed at by patients about the hospital food to arranging an inpatient marriage ceremony  — you just never know what will happen or what you’ll be called to do.

2. Unconditional positive regard is the name of the game. I see a lot of people on some of the worst days of their lives. Either they or their loved one are sick enough to require hospital care. Due to stress, fear, exhaustion, personality, or some combination of these, people are understandably upset and perhaps not their most congenial selves when I meet them. And that’s OK. They don’t have to like me.  Frankly I don’t have to like the patients that I work with, nor approve of their actions. I just need to meet them where they’re at, without judgment. I try to be respectful and compassionate, and I always try to keep in mind that I know almost nothing about the person’s struggles and problems that led them to the moment I started working with them. Unconditional positive regard is something that I will constantly be working on, but I feel like I gained a greater understanding of its importance over the past year.

3. Burnout and compassion fatigue are real.  They aren’t just concepts in a textbook. I knew I was starting to get burnt out a month ago when I found myself feeling tired and overwhelmed and getting annoyed when patients or their families needed my help with complex social situations. I just wanted to do my assessments and get them out the door. That may sound harsh, but it’s the truth. If you’re finding it more difficult to care, you’re probably getting burned out.

4. Self-care, self-care, self-care. To be honest, the emphasis on self-care during graduate school always felt fluffy or overplayed, but I understand the importance of it now. The best way for me to combat burnout or compassion fatigue (see #3) is to take care of myself. The basics — healthy eating, adequate sleep, and exercise — make a HUGE difference for me. I also found that pursuing interests outside of my work, such as writing this blog or volunteering with Make-A-Wish, is especially helpful when work is frustrating. Finally, making sure that I leave on time has been a game-changer for me. It gives me a greater sense of control and helps me feel like work isn’t taking my time and energy away from me.

5. Advocacy is the most important part of my job. Whether it’s identifying systems-level issues that need to be addressed (like increasing access to palliative care options) or making sure that a patient’s voice is heard, advocacy is essential. In medicine especially, I feel like I need to hand out bumper stickers that say, “People have the right to make bad decisions.” I may not agree with someone’s choices, like when patients with an alcohol use disorder choose to go home instead of to a treatment program, but as long as they have the capacity to make their own decisions I will vehemently defend their right to do so.  There’s been more than one occasion when I had to talk to the medical team about self-determination because they were holding up a discharge to push patients to choose the option they felt was best. The medical team’s intentions were good, but it was still paternalistic. Sometimes this kind of advocacy doesn’t exactly make me popular on the multidisciplinary team, but I feel that it’s necessary to respect the patients’ decisions, regardless of my own opinions.

6. Social work skills are just as useful for coworkers as they are for patients. My role in the multidisciplinary team is as important as my direct role with patients. As a medical social worker, my work with patients does not exist in a vacuum. It’s not one-on-one work with a patient. I’m working with the patient, doctors, nurses, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, nutritionists, etc. I often end up using the basic skills I learned (i.e., active listening, reflection, boundary setting, empathy, etc.) as a facilitator and to help smooth disagreements between disciplines.

7. Gallows humor is necessary. Like many people who work in healthcare, my coworkers and I make jokes about death and disease. The humor isn’t cruel, and as one physician in an article on Medscape put it, the difference between gallows humor and derogatory humor is like “the difference between whistling as you go through the graveyard and kicking over the gravestones.” Our jokes aren’t at the patient’s expense; they’re a coping mechanism to help deal with the constant stream of macabre circumstances.

8.  The work will never be finished. Everyday I make a list of all the things I should work on, and inevitably I never complete my list. Every time I cross a few things off, a couple more are added on. It has taught me to prioritize and to accept that I will never be done. One of the best adjustments I continue to work on is letting go of the expectations I have for the day. I only get frustrated if I have an idea of how things are “supposed to go.” It’s best if I approach my days with curiosity, wondering what crazy things will happen that day.

9. Life is short. A small but significant number of patients I work with either die in the hospital or leave the hospital on hospice. And sometimes it’s completely unexpected. I recently had a younger person come in for what they thought were gallstones, but it turned out to be stage IV pancreatic cancer. His prognosis is about 6 months. Seeing how quickly life can change is a constant reminder for me to stay in the present and enjoy it and to make the most of the time I have with the people I love.

10. People’s strength and resiliency is amazing. For all of the death, loss, anger, and family disputes happening around me, I am always impressed and inspired by the strength demonstrated by patients and their families. I’ve seen a son step up to care for his estranged father who he hadn’t seen in 15 years. I’ve seen a man move heaven and earth to get his partner home so he could pass away with his beloved cat at his side. And I’ve seen a patient fight his way back from a devastating stroke, regaining the ability to swallow, walk, and speak, in order to live independently again. For all of the negative things that can happen, it’s imperative to remember these moments; people truly are resilient.

Charlotte Girls Getaway {Weekend Recap}

This past weekend was the most adventurous that I’ve had in a while, and I loved it.  It felt good to be really active and get out of my comfort zone.

Jenna, my best friend, organized a great weekend trip for a group of girls. We went out on the town in Charlotte on Friday night and spent all day Saturday at the U.S. National Whitewater Center. (Fun fact: USNWC is an official U.S. Olympic Training Site.)       

On Friday, right after work, my friend Julie and I hopped in my trusty 9-year-old Honda CRV and headed to Charlotte. We got to our hotel around 7pm and met up with Jenna and Sam in our room. After grabbing some dinner, we bar hopped around Charlotte’s Epicentre.

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Apologies for the extreme blurriness. Also props to whoever photo bombed us. 🙂

At one point we accidentally stumbled into some exclusive party for Charlotte’s 30-under-30. Whoops.

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Jenna and I trying to blend in.

We decided that if anyone asked we would tell people that we were the inventors of the flash tattoos we were wearing.

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#flashtats

There were a lot of fun bars, but my favorite was Rooftop 210. The music was lively, and it was the perfect night to be outside.

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The views weren’t shabby either.

It also had giant Jenga and corn hole, which as a game-lover, is a major plus.

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For the northerners out there, you may also call this “bags.” Let’s be real though, we all know that corn hole is a better name.

The night eventually ended with a lovely bucket of some sort of blue alcoholic substance. Which is NEVER a good idea.

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Jenna delivered the doom drink.

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Don’t try this at home.

Needless to say, the next morning was initially at little rough. Fortunately greasy, not-at-all healthy diner food cured my hangover, and I was ready to head to the whitewater rafting center.

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Pumped for a day of adventure!

Megan, another friend, met up with us there.

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Flash Five

Besides slowing down for a couple of intense thunderstorms, we were on the move all day.  We started with whitewater rafting.

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We had a blast, and our guide was great.

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We also completed a intermediate-level high ropes course. As someone who is scared of heights, it wasn’t exactly fun, but I was proud that I did it. Check out the video below if you want to see what it’s like.

After the ropes course we went on the mega zip. It’s a 1,123 foot zip-line. You launch from the top of the 46 foot Mega Tower and fly over sections of the whitewater rafting area. It was really fun and a great way to see the whole center.

Finally, we went to the Hawk’s jump, which entailed climbing up a 40 foot pole only to jump off of it. Trust me when I say it feels even higher than it looks in the video below.

It took me a few minutes to shake off the adrenaline from that one. My heart was pounding after I made it down.

We did a lot in one day, but there were still so many other things to do.

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The US National Whitewater Center also has trails for mountain biking or hiking, kayaking (whitewater or flat water), stand-up paddle boarding (whitewater or flat water), more ropes courses,  and climbing walls. We bought an AllSport pass for $54 that gave us access to everything. I think it’s an awesome deal for everything you can do there, and I would definitely go back again.  (By the way, it was quite the workout, too. I was sore for a few days haha.)

Going out in downtown Charlotte and our outdoor adventures were certainly fun, but the best part of the weekend was spending time with an awesome group of ladies!! Now we just need to plan our next getaway . . .

Monday: Dumpster Diving Edition

Well, it was one of THOSE Mondays yesterday, and I have to share how my day started because it’s ridiculous. So I was on my way to work and realized that my gas tank was basically empty. And I don’t mean How long has my gas light been on? empty. It was Oh my gosh, is it possible for the needle to move past E? empty.

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*Note to self: follow mom’s advice and fill up at the gas tank when gets down to the last quarter. Or, you know, pay attention to that whole gas light thing.

Fortunately, my prayers were answered and I made it to the gas station. Let me set the scene for you. I start work pretty early, so it was about 6:45am. I was the only person at the gas station, and I was looking spiffy in a cute dress. I was relieved that I didn’t end up hitch hiking, but I was also getting nervous about making it to work on time. While I filled up my tank I thought it would be an excellent idea to quickly clean out my car. During hasty purge of trash and miscellaneous items from my car, I came to a horrific realization. I threw my credit card in the trash can.

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Source. The trash can looked like this one.

At this point I just suck it up and start digging around in the trash. It’s a deep trash can so my whole arm is in there. In a moment of hope, I see my credit card next to a half-eaten hamburger and a cup with an unidentifiable sticky brown substance in it. But alas, I cannot reach the card. In another act of genius, I attempt to tilt the trash can (which by the way is quite large) and ended up completely knocking it over. Squeegee water spilled everywhere, and I still couldn’t reach the card. I quickly put the trash can upright and looked around to see if anyone saw me. Lucky for me the gas station attendant was concentrating on his book.

Now I don’t know if it was frustration or perseverance or just plain stubbornness that came over me, but I decided to go for it to get my card. I kid you not; I stuck my entire upper body in the trash can. Thankfully, it wasn’t very full, but I’m sure it was a sight to be seen. Some girl in a nice dress with only her legs visible because she’s torso deep in a trash can.

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Source. I imagine I looked something like this.

It was worth it. I emerged victorious, smiling as I held my credit card. It was at that moment that I made eye contact with the gas station attendant, who had clearly seen the whole thing. I’m sure I looked like a deer in the headlights, embarrassed by my recent dumpster diving. We locked eyes for just a second before he was bent over, laughing hysterically.

I couldn’t help but laugh, too. We exchanged a smile and wave before I hopped in the car and headed to work, where I doused myself in hand sanitizer. (Hospitals for the win!) It was not how I intended to start my day, but it was a great reminder that sometimes, when everything seems to go wrong, you just have to laugh.

Daredevil, Farmers, and a Spy {Weekend Recap}

As it has been yet another month since my last post, it looks like I attempted my return to blogging a bit too soon. Womp, womp. I thought the worst was over after Derek’s surgery and internal medicine rotations, but then he was on the neuro ICU for a few weeks. It wasn’t as bad, but it still involved 60+ hour work weeks. Now Derek’s on his last rotation of third year. It’s outpatient medicine, which means normal hours! I’m pumped about it to say the least.  Anyway, suffice it to say that I’m back for real this time. On to a weekend recap!

I had a long, busy week at work so Friday evening was pretty low-key. We spent the night on the couch watching Daredevil on Netflix and drinking wine (me) and beer (Derek). If you haven’t watched Daredevil yet, I definitely recommend it. It’s fun and surprisingly well written.

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On Saturday morning I headed to the South Durham Farmers’ Market to stock up on fresh veggies.

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I’ll probably write a more detailed post on this later, but I’ve been making an effort to shop at farmers’ markets instead of the grocery store. I’m making the switch for environmental, economic, and nutritional reasons. Not to mention the food just plain tastes better than the grocery store!

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I grabbed an iced coffee on my way out. Such a treat.

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After my farmers’ market adventure, I stopped by the library to drop off a couple books.

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I recently finished the audio book version of Eleanor and Park.

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Yep. Totally snuck into the YA section to grab this one. It was worth it. I grabbed a couple of cookbooks for inspiration on my way out, too.

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Later in the afternoon, Derek and I headed to UNC to hang out at the pool. Warning: paleness ahead.

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The weather was perfect, and it was our first pool day of the year! After we got cleaned up, we went out for dinner at our local Mexican place and then headed to the movie theatre. We saw Spy on a whim and really enjoyed it. It certainly made me laugh, and I always appreciate a feminist storyline.

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Today we’ve catching up on a lot of things around the house. We did some serious cleaning and laundry, which was much needed, and I cleaned/chopped/peeled all of my farmers’ market purchases so they’re ready to use during the week. As tedious as taking care of the house can be, I love the feeling of having a clean and organized home.

I’m thankful for such a relaxing, restorative weekend. Here’s to hoping the week ahead is just as good!

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