HEALS Students, Scholars Make a Difference in Social Work's Future

NASW Foundation at 20

By Paul R. Pace

Social Work HEALS students from the 2019 cohort stand outside the U.S. Capitol building

One of many ways the NASW Foundation supports the expansion and growth of social work is administering programs that promote social work education, leadership, and health care inclusion.

A perfect example of this is the Social Work HEALS (Healthcare Education and Leadership Scholars) program, which has bolstered the delivery of health care services and expanded social work research and policy related to the improvement of the delivery of health care services in the U.S.

The NASW Foundation, along with the Council on Social Work Education, administered Social Work HEALS from 2015-2020. In honor of the Foundation's 20th anniversary this year, we acknowledge how Social Work HEALS has advanced the education and training of health care social workers and supported nearly 300 students at the BSW, MSW and PhD/DSW levels.

The program was made possible by a generous grant award from The New York Community Trust Robert and Ellen Popper Scholarship Fund. The NASW Foundation’s existing Jane B. Aron Doctoral Fellowship and the Verne LaMarr Lyons Memorial MSW scholarships have been supplemented through the HEALS program each year during the six-year funding period. HEALS also awarded BSW and MSW Scholarships through 10 partner schools of social work.

Health Care and Social Work

Social workers have a vital role to play in health care and it is important that they are not only at the table but are taking a seat at the head of the table, says Beth Prusaczyk, PhD, MSW, instructor at the Institute for Informatics at Washington University in St. Louis, and a 2016-17 HEALS doctoral fellow.

“The HEALS experience supplemented my educational training and solidified my interest in pursuing health care and policy as a career,” Prusaczyk said. “When I completed my PhD, I decided to pursue a federal policy fellowship related to health and older adults, and, thanks to HEALS, I felt confident in submitting my application and was honored to be accepted into the fellowship. I have since continued to work in health care and policy and it all started with HEALS.”

As a HEALS alumna, Prusaczyk said she is part of a network comprising social workers from across the country—at all levels and in all different corners of health care. “Not only can we call on each other to help with our individual career goals but we can also come together to advocate for important issues or act on behalf of patients and clients at a national level, which is incredibly powerful.”

Professional Networks

JaNeen Cross, DSW, MSW, MBA, is an assistant professor at Howard University School of Social Work and the 2016-17 HEALS policy fellow.

Cross said the HEALS program helped foster leadership skills through numerous activities, such as organizing a maternal child health congressional briefing and annual summits, publishing health policy briefs and health practice articles in NASW publications, and participating in panel discussions and helping train and prepare MSW students for congressional Hill visits to advance strategic priorities for social work.

“The HEALS program ensured the critical voice of social work, and the patients we serve, are leading health care initiatives to improve quality, access, and cost of health care,” Cross says.

Ayanna Robinson is a 2018-19 Lyons Scholar who received her MSW from New York University in 2019. “The HEALS experience directly shaped how I view policy,” Robinson says. “When interviewing for the hospital social work position I currently have, I was motivated to discuss and engage in conversations regarding the policies that would affect our work directly. Also, it motivated me to have continued conversations with leadership about our systems, so that the best care practices can be utilized.”

Keeping all generations of cohorts connected with one another with virtual meetups, workshops and networking opportunities helps by collectively sharing experiences, she adds.

Alumni Mixer

In March, the NASW Foundation and CSWE hosted the virtual HEALS Student Policy Summit that featured a new component, an alumni mixer. It brought together former HEALS scholars for a networking opportunity to share information and ideas with the current cohort. Alumni discussed their career trajectory, answered questions about leadership roles in the profession, and shared advocacy and practice opportunities for collaboration in the future.

Efforts are under way to infuse ongoing HEALS programming into NASW and CSWE, including sustainability activities, such as advocacy training in NASW’s CE Institute and leadership development opportunities at NASW’s national conferences and Leadership Summit.

full screen of people on a Zoom call during NASW Foundation Virtual Summit

Social Work HEALS students and alumni gathered for the virtual HEALS summit held earlier this year. It allowed alumni to share information with the cohort.

cover of magazine, person pulls on rope while standing in a pile of office equipment and discarded face masks

Social Work Advocates Flipbook

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The Social Work HEALS program is one of the many examples of how donations to the NASW Foundation support the growth of the social work profession. To donate and learn more, visit the NASW Foundation.