The Unsung Hero of the Hospital

When we think about healthcare, and about hospitals, most people conjure up images of physicians in surgery, or of nurses in scrubs moving quickly and efficiently between sick patients. Indeed, those are common themes. Of course, hospitals are filled with many important people, from medical staff to therapists, pharmacists, X-ray and ultrasound technicians, housekeeping, laundry, kitchen staff and a veritable army of individuals committed to caring for the sick and injured.

But one group is often left out of our consideration. That group is the social workers. Behind the scenes, social workers are constantly helping patients and families to navigate their crises. Whether counseling them in grief or helping them to plan discharge to home, whether arranging rehab or nursing home stays or simply getting a homeless patient a meal and a drive to a shelter, social workers are truly the unsung heroes of modern hospitals.

I have worked with many social workers and almost universally they have been among the most approachable and compassionate persons on the hospital staff. When I don’t know what do do with a patient who is addicted, I call the social worker, who knows the local resources and has experience dealing with these afflictions. When I have a demented senior abandoned by family (it happens!), the social worker has a plan. And when I have a suicidal patient, it is more often a social worker than a psychiatrist who does the initial work of finding a safe place for them to go.

Any physician, any nurse, indeed any pastor can tell you that dealing with the deeply personal suffering of humans can take a huge toll on one’s emotional well-being. I suspect, however, that what social workers face can sometimes be even more difficult because so many of their patients, due to family problems or financial struggles, really have nearly hopeless situations.
So, when a compassionate person faces a suffering person and has little to offer, it’s hurtful all around. And yet, day after day social workers keep coming back to make things better for patients and easier for staff.

I say all of this so that the next time you’re in the hospital, whether as a patient or with family or friends, you can think to say ‘thank you’ to a social worker. And maybe, in your prayers for the sick and dying, and for they medical workers who minister to them, you may offer up some intercession for those who do the hard work behind the scenes, making lives better in increments small and large and in situations you would be hard pressed to imagine.

Thank you, social workers! God go with you.

Originally published in the SC Baptist Courier. Link below.

Wholly Healthy: The Unsung Hero of the Hospital

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