Tag Archives: social work

FAQ: January 2016

Happy New Year!! I’m so excited to kick off 2016.

Derek and I were reflecting on the past year, and we decided to describe it as our “grind it out” year. Compared to the excitement of 2014, this past year included a lot of hard, and sometimes monotonous-feeling, work. However, we remain very blessed and thankful for another healthy, happy year, and we still managed to have a lot of fun along the way.

It’s been a LONG time since I last blogged, so I thought I’d catch you up by answering some frequently asked questions in the life of the Pinkertons.


FAQ: January 2016

Is Derek a doctor yet? 

Not quite. He’s very close though! In just four months he will graduate from medical school. I am so incredibly proud of him to the point that I can’t even talk about his graduation because there’s a 100% chance I’ll start tearing up. Yes, I am pathetic.

What kind of doctor is he going to be? 

Derek decided that his speciality will be Combined Internal Medicine and Pediatrics. Most people call it Med-Peds for short. He’s actually following in his dad’s footsteps and will be trained to care for both children and adults.

Derek residency photo

Derek’s residency application photo. 

How long is his residency? 

Derek’s residency will be four years. It’s a pretty good deal considering the categorial medicine and pediatrics programs are both 3 years. They basically squash 6 years of learning into 4 for this speciality by doing away with a lot of electives.

Where will you go for his residency? 

We don’t know yet, but we’ll find out on Match Day (March 18th).

What’s Match Day? 

Every year, on the third Friday in March, senior medical students across the country find out where they will be going for residency. At UNC, everyone and their loved ones gather in a large auditorium, and they call students up one at a time and hand them an envelope, which contains the name of their residency match.

Wait, what?? You don’t pick where you go? 

Well, sort of. After Derek goes on all of his interviews (he’s going to 10 places), he will turn in a rank-order list of the programs. The programs will also rank order the applicants. The process is blinded, so neither the applicants nor the programs know the orders submitted.  After the lists are submitted, the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP) uses a complex algorithm to “match” applicants to programs based on the rank-order lists.

Tl;dr: our future is ultimately determined by a computer.

Woah, that is crazy.

Yes, yes it is. But it’s also exciting! Everyone once in a while I feel a little overwhelmed by the lack of control, but I remind myself that Derek and I have input, and 80% of applicants get one of their top three choices. I also figure it doesn’t do me any good to worry; instead, I’m usually find myself getting excited about all of the possibilities and opportunities for our future. We also try to remind each other that we’re in it together, which makes it a little less daunting.

Where do you want to go?

We’re not sure yet. In fact, Derek still has one more interview later this month. We probably won’t reveal the exact order, but these are some of his favorite programs (in alphabetical order) thus far:

  • University of Chicago
  • University of Cincinnati
  • Indiana University
  • University of North Carolina
  • University of Rochester

What are you up to? 

I’m still working as an inpatient medicine social worker at a local hospital. It’s hard to believe I’ve been there for 1.5 years already. I finally feel like I know what I’m doing (most days)!

What’s next for you? 

I’ve officially completed 2,220 practice hours and 74 supervision hours towards my license, so I will hopefully beat the clock and get my license before we (possibly) move in June! (FYI: In North Carolina, 3,000 practice hours and 100 supervision hours are required to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker.)

Once I’ve obtained my license, I’ll be looking to make a change, which is good timing because we might be moving anyway. I’m hoping to stay in medicine but find a position that is more clinical. I’d love to work in hospice or palliative care if possible.

Do you have any New Year’s resolutions?

I have a few goals in mind, actually. I’ll be dedicating a separate post to them though, and I’ll be taking a look at how I did with my goals from last year.

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.

The Root of All That Is Wrong

This weekend my friend Caroline and I headed to downtown Raleigh for HKonJ’s Moral March. HKonJ stands for Historic Thousands on Jones St People’s Assembly Coalition. The purpose of the Moral March on Raleigh is “to hold a mass people’s assembly to reaffirm its commitment to the 14 Point People’s Agenda and to hold lawmakers accountable to the people of North Carolina.” The agenda addresses public education, health care reform, living wages, environmental justice, voting rights, and more.

Though I marched for many reasons, I was most motivated by supporting Medicaid expansion in North Carolina. I find it truly repugnant that the leaders of this state will not expand federally-funded health care coverage to 500,000 of North Carolina’s low-income citizens. It sends the damning message that some lives matter less, and a political statement is more important than those lives.  Reflecting on the fallacious notion that some people are more valuable than others made me think of this quote:

“The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that is wrong with the world. ” -Paul Farmer

This is why social justice is the keystone of social work. I believe my most important role is to make it known and understood that all lives, especially the lives of those who are disenfranchised, matter.

P.S. If you don’t know much about Paul Farmer, I highly recommend Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder.

Meal Plan: An Ode to Trader Joe’s

Hello there! Hope you had a great weekend! I was one of those lucky people who had a 3-day weekend. Don’t worry, the universe balanced itself out, and I’m working this Saturday. I really can’t complain since I don’t have to work weekends very often, but I’m a bit nervous about being the only social worker in the hospital. :/

In an unfortunate twist of fate, I’m working on Derek’s only Saturday off this month. He’s on his internal medicine rotation right now which means long hours (65-70 hours/week), intense studying, and only one day off each week. Bleh. With both of us working a lot this week, meal planning was crucial. I needed easy, quick, preferably healthy meals for the week. On crazy weeks like this, Trader Joe’s is a life saver.

Like my previous meal plan posts, I included the meals that I plan for each day this week. I’m also highlighting the time-saving Trader Joe’s products that I enjoy.


Meal Plan- Week of 1/18/15

Sunday: Jambalaya + Salad

Monday: Rotisserie Chicken + Broccoli + Roasted Potatoes

roasted-potatoes

Roasted Potatoes with Roasted Peppers & Onions. Source.

Tuesday: Steak and Asparagus Stir Fry + Brown Rice

Wednesday: Curry Chicken + Green Beans + Naan

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My “curry chicken” is the easiest meal ever. Step 1: Cut chicken into bite-sized pieces and place in pan. Step 2: Dump simmer sauce on top of chicken. Step 3: Cover and cook on medium for 10 minutes. Voila! Source.

plain-tandoori-naan

This is one of my absolute favorite TJ’s products. It’s SO delicious, especially the garlic version. Source.

Thursday: Taco Salad

Friday: Dinner Out

Saturday: Chile Lime Chicken Burgers + Sweet Potato Frites + Salad

Trader Joes chili lime burgers

These burgers have a simple ingredients list, and they pair perfectly with avocado or pepper jack cheese. Nom. Source.

92157-sweet-potato-frites

Because sweet potatoes are the best potatoes. Source.

 

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