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MSW student enjoys field experience working with Parkinson’s population

By Stephanie Miller, MSW Student

During an introduction to field practicum, Rebecca Brigham, director of field education at the UNC School of Social Work, reminded the first-year MSW cohort that field work is “the pedagogy of social work education.” This sentiment accurately describes the centrality of my field practice and its role in solidifying concepts from the classroom. The first-year field placement in the full-time MSW program combines aspects of community practice and direct practice to provide a broad exposure prior to concentration year.

All of a sudden I find myself in the 7th week of field placement with the UNC Movement Disorders Clinic, a National Parkinson Foundation (NPF) Center of Excellence that operates within the outpatient neurology department. I am working with 2012 UNC MSW alum Jessica Katz, LCSW, who is my field instructor here at the clinic. Jessica serves both as the center coordinator and clinical social worker, and works alongside Dr. Nina Browner, one of the leading neurologists specializing in Parkinson’s disease (PD) and movement disorders.  During my time here I have already observed a wide variety of the elements involved in clinical, geriatric and medical social work.

Jessica guides me to understand her strategies for interviewing and assessment and I have had opportunities with patients to put these theoretical skills into motion. I interface with patients frequently, whether it is by phone for follow ups and resource connection, or in-person biopsychosocial assessments on initial visits to the clinic. I am starting to recognize patterns for those coping with chronic illness, such as varying reactions to a diagnosis like PD, issues around safety in the home, the impact on mood, and changes in roles and relationships for both patients and their family care partners.

At the same time, I am getting a taste for macro social work practice. I am helping to plan a PD-specific training for allied healthcare providers in the Fayetteville area. I have been tasked with finding neurologists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists and mental health specialists who are interested in learning how to tailor their services to patients living with PD. This is particularly relevant for serving patients who are seen at our clinic but live in the southeast region of the state. Connecting patients to resources for PD therapies has been a challenge in southeastern North Carolina, so creating the resources for them is a pertinent step for increasing awareness, education and services in the healthcare field.

I am also getting the experience of broader community advocacy as our Clinic partners with the National Parkinson Foundation and Duke to organize our state’s 2nd annual Moving Day ® NC Triangle, a funds- and awareness-raising walk for Parkinson’s at Cary’s Booth Amphitheatre on November 1. My field instructor is the chair of this event. I look forward to being a part of this empowering and family-friendly day for the local Parkinson’s community to gather and celebrate living well with this complex, neurodegenerative disease.

My interactions with our population is enhancing my skills of communication and empathy, recognizing gaps in service, identifying caregiver burnout and meeting a person where he/she is. I have already learned so much about resiliency of people who are faced with challenging situations, as well as the general flexibility of the jobs of social workers. I look forward to seeing what the rest of the year brings to my hands-on social work education!

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