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ASU students to learn health care social work during program at Phoenix Children's

School of Social Work students will gain skills to help young patients, families cope

Phoenix Children's Hospital, main entrance

Phoenix Children's and ASU's School of Social Work have joined to have nine students work at the hospital in a yearlong program teaching health care social work. Photo courtesy of Phoenix Children's

August 23, 2021

Social workers help people better navigate life’s difficulties, usually dispatched from government agencies and social service providers. But they are also found in hospitals and clinics, assisting those being treated for physical or mental maladies but who also need help coping with daily living.

Nine students in Arizona State University's School of Social Work make up the first cohort of a new partnership with Phoenix Children’s. They will work with young patients and their parents at the hospital for the next year starting this fall.

ASU and Phoenix Children’s have worked together for years training students interested in careers in health care, but this is the first time social work students will be offered a combination of health and mental health training within the hospital’s halls, said Sarah Vitse Doyle, a School of Social Work clinical assistant professor who is collaborating with Phoenix Children’s on this new partnership.

“Our partnership with Phoenix Children’s has mostly been within the health care realm; the philosophy of the mind-body connect will be a new addition to our partnership,” said Doyle, who has been teaching within the School of Social Work for five years before starting her current position.

Rhonda Baldwin, Phoenix Children’s manager of social services, said the health system has developed continuing professional relationships with ASU “because we see the value in the alignment of academic learning and the provision of direct services. When that occurs, all parties are strengthened and can accomplish more effective programs for patients and families.”

Many Phoenix Children’s staff members serve as adjunct faculty for ASU’s bachelor's and master’s degree programs in social work, said Baldwin, who is a member of School of Social Work's Phoenix Community Advisory Board.

Phoenix Children’s staff began to see children and adolescents with rising health concerns even before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Baldwin said.

“The isolation and loss caused by COVID-19 has intensified many mental health needs and caused entire families to struggle with lack of mental health resources,” Baldwin said. “Professionals trained to work with children and adolescents, particularly those who have complex physical health needs, are in short supply. The commitment of ASU and Phoenix Children’s to join together and develop a program to further support the needs of our children will benefit the entire community. In concert, we will help therapists achieve the clinical hours necessary to obtain their independent therapy licenses and have the evidence-based practices and tools to provide high-quality care.”

Quick access to supportive services potentially can reduce suicide attempts as well as alleviate the anguish felt by youths and their families, “who often have to wait to obtain the help that they need,” Baldwin said. “With this partnership, we are expanding the workforce, who can quickly respond to requests for help and do so in a way that allows children and families to continue to flourish.”

After finishing the year, the students will be eligible for a two-year fellowship. In addition to experience in health care social work, the two-year program provides enough therapeutic experience to enable students to become licensed therapists, Doyle said.

Health care social workers provide a variety of services to patients and their families, ranging from crisis intervention to insurance evaluations.

Students who complete all of the training will be qualified to provide one-on-one therapy to patients, said Doyle, who said that her students won’t be the only ones to benefit from the program.

“This program has a unique opportunity that strikes me as significant in that I see the tremendous need of the community for this program as well,” Doyle said. “It provides practical experience for our students, but it also meets the needs of our community.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has offered social workers the chance to seriously examine how they provide social work in the health care system, and how social workers can serve patients from both a social work and a health care perspective, she said.

Students also will have monthly opportunities to increase their knowledge by studying topics including HIV, sex trafficking, trauma-informed care, gender dysphoria, health care disparity for tribal communities and other evidence-based interventions, Doyle said.

“I really value this program for its ability to serve a need within our community. We strive to better serve our underserved populations,” Doyle said.

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