The path to social work was not an obvious one at first for NASW-Iowa Executive Director Denise Rathman.
While working at Planned Parenthood of Mid-Iowa as a family planning assistant, she realized that legislation and policy did not always match the reality of what people were going through and how they behaved.
She says she wanted a position that combined psychology with political science, and she explained this to a colleague.
“At the time, this co-worker happened to be in social work school and she said, ‘You’re talking about social work,’” Rathman says. “She brought a social policy textbook in, and I knew then social work was the right career.”
Rathman went on to receive her MSW at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. She has held plenty of politically based positions, including working with Sen. Ted Kennedy’s leadership political action committee in 1993.
An Iowa native, Rathman says she was drawn to the chapter’s executive director position because she saw a great opportunity to put together the career experiences she had while also serving the social work profession.
“These positions don’t come open very often, and when I saw it I knew it was what I wanted to pursue,” says Rathman, who started the job in December. “It combines work I’ve done as a consultant, on workforce-development issues, as well as the work I’ve done on political campaigns.”
She says there is no shortage of work to be done at the chapter. She is further developing the chapter’s legislative presence, and sees the benefit of having allies in the Iowa Legislature, including NASW member Rep. Marti Anderson, D-Des Moines.
“The opportunities to advocate for social work legislation are not only important for social work, but (also for) the people we serve,” Rathman says.
The chapter will also work to develop a complementary set of policy priorities — in a format similar to “Social Work Speaks” — which will be updated every two years, she says.
“(Student) loan repayment is a big part of that,” Rathman says. “We are also working on additional training around macro social work issues, enhancing education opportunities outside of direct practice — while keeping stuff up around direct practice — and adding classes.”
She says there is a lot that needs to be done for social workers, and especially for the people they serve.
“Social workers hold a very unique position, and whenever they are at the table, their opinions are respected,” Rathman says. “We have that ability to impact policy development, and think about how that will impact the people it’s intended to serve.”
For all of those who are thinking about holding a position like hers, Rathman says it’s a good idea to take an accounting class.
“I’m a pretty meticulous bookkeeper from dealing with a lot of nitty-gritty, day-to-day financial tasks in the past, although I’ve never had a class,” she says. “For anyone going for a management role in a nonprofit, I’d recommend an accounting course.”