My first year social work practicum was at Mount Carmel East, and I learned more there than I can summarize easily. I knew that I’d picked the right career choice when I started to miss working in a clinic on the days when I was in class. I’ll be 29 next month, and full time work and adulthood aren’t all that new to me anymore, but missing my work was. For most of my twenties I slogged through customer service work and call center jobs in an effort to become financially stable after my surgeries. I came to grad school intent on a career in advocacy, and eight months of working directly with patients changed my mind.
Clinics, needless to say, are my favorite part of my time with the ALSA. I’m learning a lot during the lengthier amount of time I spend doing administrative work and program design – they’re skills I’ve had to utilize less – but Fridays connecting with patients reminds me of why I was drawn to social work and public health as a career choice in the first place. It’s the space between duty and passion.
One of the things I’m fond of saying when people ask me about my spinal cord injury is that I will never be thankful for what happened to me, but I will always be thankful for the perspective it gave me on working with others. When my ALS patients are frustrated by taking a little while to get out of their wheelchairs or write out something they used to be able to say, they might snap at me, and I don’t take it personally because I get it. Sometimes that’s the key to forging a bond with patients (or just the key to staying positive during the work day.)
It’s fun, though. I’ve gotten to help the social worker at the clinic and redesign some of their forms, and being at the clinic really helps me to get some extra perspective on the needs for the program I’m redesigning. ALS is relatively rare, and it means that some of our patients from rural or Appalachian regions drive literally three to five hours, round trip, to be seen by the clinic or to pick up equipment. As a city boy, it’s something I can’t really fathom, and it’s something I’ve tried to be mindful of while reworking the program. The ALSA liked my suggestion to create a new location in southeast Ohio so that our Appalachian patients won’t have to drive as far, and it could be the difference for many of them between a three hour drive and a one hour drive. It’s a small thing, but sometimes those are the things that make patients feel the most cared about, and that do the most to ease the burden of disease.