Oh the joys of working on an “interdisciplinary team.”
I will start out by saying that I love working on a team of various professionals in a hospital setting. I have learned so much about medicine and care of patients from my team. Each role is integral and one cannot be done with out the other. I assume most people have had an interaction with a doctor or nurse in a hospital and thus have a good idea of what duties they are expected to fill. I do not ask a nurse to determine the appropriate dosage of medicine for a patient nor do I expect a doctor to take blood or give said medicine to a patient daily. However, it seems, that anything that comes up and does not fit into either a nurse or doctor role (and sometimes that too) falls on the social worker.
Let me explain by sharing the highlights of my day that did not include “social work.” Today, I was called by a pharmacists in the community. He asked for clarification on a prescription that the psychiatrist had prescribed for a patient. I took the message and called him back when the doctor told me the appropriate dosage. Mistaken identity one: a doctor’s secretary. Later, the billing office asked me to verify insurance as they did not have the correct information for a patient. Mistaken identity two: billing/admission office. Finally, at the end of the day no less than 3 people came to find me and one even interrupted a session with a patient to tell me that a nurse needed to talk to me ASAP. When I was finished I said, “Yes, how can I help?” She said “I called you about a patient yesterday and I never heard back.” I informed her that the message was not for a patient I had so I had passed the information on to the correct social worker, thus why I did not call back directly. Mistaken identity three: the wrong social worker. The nurse I was speaking with proceeded to tell me her problem anyway. It was about how the social worker (who she was still speaking as if I was the one who she needed information from) had not properly informed her about whether or not the MD had planned to give the patient (whom I had never met) medications at discharge. This compliant continued on to a tirade about how the entire social work department has poor communication and how was she “supposed to know who to contact?” I thought I would point out the obvious ways we had communicated who was the appropriate social worker (names listed next to the patients with our corresponding phone numbers) and the clear fact that social workers do not play a role in the medication and that this question should be directed to the attending physician. Not to mention that any pertinent nursing information should have been passed in report by her fellow nurse as she was the second shift. Mistaken identity four/five/six: the doctor, the supervisor of social work, and the nurse from the previous shift and of course I was still the wrong social worker. In the end, I was not effective in communicating to the nurse the lack of ability I had in solving her problem.
I love nurses, but, just with any profession, there are plenty of people in life who do not want to hear rational thought. People will turn their back to you, ignore you, talk over you or seek out someone else who might answer differently. This can be very frustrating, but now I can come to understand the perspective of the misled nurse. She, as well as the other professionals social workers interface with on a daily basis turn to social work to solve problems they cannot solve on their own. It makes sense one would turn to me for answers outside of my official “job description.” In the same day a colleague found a way to get a car out of impound for a patient (for free!), I went to the pharmacy across the street to pick up medications for a patient going to treatment and helped a patient call a bill collector to explain the current situation more clearly. None of which require a masters level degree or are necessarily social work.
Officially, I am employed to coordinate discharge planning and family meetings, conduct individual therapy, and to provide diagnosis and treatment of mentally ill adults in a psychiatric crisis. unofficially, my job description is to make things work, to answer questions or find someone who can help. I know I am never to say “that is not my job.” I don’t know if that comes from being a social worker or the work environment I am in, but either way social workers must make things happen and to think on their feet.
Today upset me. I was not able to provide an answer to a question. I was not able to help. I am learning to let some things go and to try my best and to do enough but not so much that I forget to take care of me. I am not superwoman, but I am a social worker and in this world that is pretty darn close.