Dell Medical, School of Social Work form first-ever Department of Health Social Work

Samagra Jain

Growing up, Monica Navarro-Jimenez said she was confident that she wanted to become a doctor. This past semester, when she served as a front desk attendant for UT Health Austin, Navarro-Jimenez, a public health senior, said she noticed many Spanish-speaking patients struggling to overcome the language barrier and missing out on critical resources.

As a native Spanish speaker, Navarro-Jimenez said she soon found herself translating instructions and written materials for them — and discovering her passion for social work along the way.

“When I helped those patients, I realized that I was on the wrong side of what I want to do in life,” Navarro-Jimenez said. “I respect the work that doctors do, but I found out that my interests are more on the emotional, mental and holistic side of patient care.” 

Last semester, Navarro-Jimenez applied to UT’s Steve Hicks School of Social Work for a master’s degree and received her acceptance in February. When Navarro-Jimenez enters the master’s program, she will work with the new Department of Health Social Work at Dell Medical School, part of a partnership with the Steve Hicks School of Social Work. The new department aims to provide an academic home for clinical and nonclinical social workers, said Barbara Jones, social work professor and chair of the new department. 

“This department will provide a bridge between the clinical social workers and our top-ranked school of social work,” Jones said. “Having a department of social work in a medical school is very unique and sends a strong message about increasing collaboration between professions.”

This collaboration will facilitate and grow several initiatives, including placing social work students with clinical social workers and allowing clinical social workers to expand into teaching roles, both in a classroom and in healthcare settings, Jones said. The new department still awaits final approval by the UT System Board of Regents and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

“Our social workers will provide clinical care, education, be involved in research and still have a community impact,” Jones said. “When a med student, resident or social work student rotates through one of our clinics, they’re going to learn from physicians, and they’re also going to learn from social workers.”

Social workers play a vital role in a clinical setting, said Anil Chaudhary, who runs a private clinic in Austin. 

“It’s very impressive to me that Dell Medical School is elevating the role of social workers in clinics and leading these initiatives to help them collaborate with other health professionals,” Chaudhary said. “Medicine and surgery is only one part of healthcare — without social workers to support us, we wouldn’t be able to treat patients as effectively as we do.”

Navarro-Jimenez said this partnership holds several opportunities for career development and experience in a modern hospital setting. 

“From my experiences, healthcare felt very impersonal a lot of the time, so I’m hoping that this new department is able to give social workers a bigger role in the hospital to get the full picture of the patient,” Navarro-Jimenez said.