Dell Medical School receives gift to promote clinical social work

Amirtha Jayakumaran, General News Reporter

Dell Medical School’s Department of Health Social Work received a $1.2 million gift from philanthropists to expand the department’s efforts, including $500,000 to create an endowed scholarship fund to be matched by the Steve Hicks School of Social Work’s endowment.

Through the department, which was founded in 2019, social workers work with multidisciplinary health care teams, according to a Dell Med press release. The gift, provided by John David and Leslie Moritz, will provide funds to recruit and support clinical social workers, establish a departmental fund and create a social work scholarship.

“We know that 80% of people’s health happens outside of the clinic,” said department chair Barbara Jones. “The person is not just their diagnosis, and they’re not just somebody in the clinic. They’re a person who lives in their whole environment, in their community with all the intersectionality that goes with that, and so we want to be able to attend to their needs in that holistic way.”

Social workers provide patient-centered care that accounts for all aspects of a patient’s health. They help patients find personalized assistance such as financial and mental health resources, said Mikaela Frissell, a clinical social worker working with a health care team.

Due to an increase in emphasis on social work in health care, patients are more comfortable with the care process and are willing to take initiative to get long-term help, Frissell said.

“So often people are more likely to follow up on physical health care needs than an emotional, mental or social need,” Frissell said. “When they have that delivered to them rather than having to seek it out, they’ll realize how safe it is.”

Social workers actively work to combat specific health disparities that patients of different races and genders may experience.

“How does everything that’s ever happened to you and all the pieces of your identity influence your ability to really get the care you need?” Jones said. “I hold both of those (questions) in my head and in my heart, and that’s what I think social work does so well.”

As Dell Medical School’s focus shifts from treating illness to helping people get healthier in the long term, social workers help set the health care team up for success, said Karl Koenig, executive director of the Musculoskeletal Institute.

“If we really want to take care of the whole person, then we have to have the capability of taking care of the whole person,” said Koenig. “Having a social worker on our team shows commitment to helping patients engage in their health and helping them achieve healthier behaviors.