Students attend policy summit

Social Work HEALS attendeesStudents with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work attended the Social Work HEALS Student Policy Summit in Washington, D.C., in November. Social Work HEALS, a program implemented by NASW and the Council on Social Work Education,with funding from New York Community Trust, trains and educates students to strengthen the delivery of health care services in the U.S. Here, students pose at the NASW national office in Washington. /Photo by Paul R. Pace, NASW News

Nearly 50 BSW and MSW students from across the country gathered for educational sessions on health care, leadership and advocacy activities on Capitol Hill as part of the Social Work Health Care Education and Leadership Scholars (Social Work HEALS) Student Policy Summit, which was hosted at NASW’s national office in November.

NASW and the Council on Social Work Education are partnering to implement the Social Work HEALS program, which aims to educate and train social workers from the BSW to postdoctoral levels to strengthen the delivery of health care services in the U.S. The New York Community Trust is funding the project.

NASW CEO Angelo McClain told the students it’s important that social workers have a place at the table whenever health care policy and regulations are debated.

McClain said that as his career advanced, “I began to realize I needed to speak up and put my voice in the conversation. I had an important perspective that nobody else brings.”

CSWE President and CEO Darla Spence Coffey told attendees they are in a crucial period of health care history. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 is transforming the delivery of health care services by stressing improved health outcomes, greater access to care and reduced health care costs, she said.

“There is a transformation occurring in our health care delivery,” Coffey said. “It’s not going to look like it always has.” Coffey added: “We want to make sure you think together on education, practice, policy and research.”

As part of the summit, attendees heard inspiring stories from social work leaders whose careers took unexpected pathways.

One of them was Aaron Bishop, commissioner of the Administration on Disabilities within the Administration for Community Living at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. He explained that accepting a Kennedy Fellowship in 2003 led to work in disability policy, something he had never planned. But he’s glad it happened.

“Social work is all about learning,” said Bishop, who has since fought for the civil rights of people with disabilities, both as a direct service provider in his home state of Wisconsin and as a policy adviser on Capitol Hill.

“Be as open-minded as possible,” he told the students. “Keep your opportunities as open as possible. I took a chance.”

Elizabeth Hoffler, director of policy and engagement at George Washington University Cancer Institute, shared a similar message.

discussion group

Students divide into groups for discussion sessions at the NASW national office in Washington, D.C., in November. Nearly 50 BSW and MSW students from across the country visited NASW as part of the Social Work HEALS Student Policy. /Photo by Paul R. Pace, NASW News

She told students her career is “totally different” from how she planned it at age 18.

Hoffler said learning about the oncology field was an offshoot of her many activities when she worked at NASW’s national office as the assistant to the executive director for seven years.

In her current role, Hoffler focuses on policy and engagement and is involved in direct-practice issues, something she never dreamed she would enjoy.

“The best thing about social work is it can take you anywhere,” Hoffler added. “Don’t close any doors, because you don’t know what could happen.”

A key part of the summit was training the students to meet with their representatives on Capitol Hill and to advocate for legislation important to the social work profession and its clients. As part of the training, HEALS students heard from Senate staff and lobbyists about best practices in advocating for issues important to social work in Congress.

Meeting with representatives and their staffs on the next day, students were encouraged to discuss the HEALS program and to express that they are advocating on behalf of NASW and CSWE to increase knowledge about public service loan forgiveness and improvements in access to health and mental health services, as well as to note the need for recruitment and retention in social work.

Some students had the opportunity to meet directly with members of Congress who are also social workers — U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., and U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz.

For more about Social Work HEALS: