The Social Work Difference

UT Health Austin social workers advocate for every aspect of a patient’s well-being

Reviewed by: Sylvia Bhuiyan, LCSW; Tanya Voss, and JD Moore
Written by: Lauren Schneider

A young man and a woman with gray hair seated in blue chairs engaging in conversation.

Healthcare environments are dedicated to treating illness and injury, but other aspects of your well-being, including your social, emotional, and mental health needs, should not be overlooked. At UT Health Austin, we recognize that these factors are key components of your path to wellness and equally as important as addressing your physical needs. Our licensed clinical social workers offer guidance and support by working with you as a part of your care team to develop a care plan that meets your unique needs.

“In the healthcare setting, a social worker can offer compassion and connect patients to relevant community resources,” says Sylvia Bhuiyan, LCSW, a licensed clinical social worker who is a part of UT Health Austin’s Integrated Behavioral Health care team. “Social workers take a holistic view of patient well-being. We account for the physical, mental, and financial obstacles that stand between a patient and their healing.”

A Champion in Your Corner

Any patient at UT Health Austin can request to have a social worker involved in their care. A social worker may also become part of a patient’s care team following a referral from another UT Health Austin clinician. “In many cases, patients are referred to a social worker based on the results of their pre-appointment questionnaire, which is designed to help identify psychosocial factors that may be impacting the patient’s well-being,” notes Bhuiyan.

A social worker can help you work through mental and behavioral health concerns that you may feel uncomfortable sharing with other providers. Social workers use the utmost discretion, sharing this information with the rest of your care team only as it relates to your treatment. “Like any other healthcare professional, I share patient information only on a ‘need to know’ basis,” explains Bhuiyan. “I can alert the provider to the patient’s history without disclosing specifics.”

In addition to assisting patients through mental and behavioral health challenges, social workers can help patients navigate material hardships that may affect their health and treatment. “There’s more to people than their illness, and the daily stressors a person faces can worsen a person’s condition or prevent them from healing,” shares Bhuiyan. “A provider may be an expert on a given condition, but they might not realize that a patient cannot make their appointments because they lack reliable transportation. A social worker can help patients access resources that eliminate barriers to their care.”

Find out what inspired Donna Shanor, LCSW, LCDC, Director of Clinical Social Work at UT Health Austin, to pursue social work.

<br>The Journey to a Health Social Work Career

Bhuiyan was drawn to the field of social work by the opportunities it offered to help empower disadvantaged populations. Social work training encompasses a wide variety of disciplines, from psychology to sociology and economics. “Social workers are versatile providers because we are trained to view a person’s circumstances through both an individual and societal lens,” notes Bhuiyan. “This helps us to not only address immediate concerns, but also identify the underlying root causes.”

After earning a master’s degree in social work, social workers take a rigorous licensing exam to earn credentials as a licensed master social worker (LMSW). Social workers with a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) designation, such as Bhuiyan, have completed post-graduate work under clinical supervision following their degree and licensing exam. As an licensed clinical social worker, a social worker can practice independently and provide additional services, such as evidence-based therapeutic techniques, to help address a patient’s needs.

While no supplementary credentials are required to practice social work in a healthcare environment, many professionals entering the field choose to pursue relevant training to enhance their ability to serve patients. The Steve Hicks School of Social Work (SHS) at The University of Texas at Austin offers a certificate program in healthcare social work for people pursing a master’s degree, allowing students the opportunity for further professional development and to complete an internship in their field.

Many students in the school’s certificate program choose to complete their internship at UT Health Austin. “UT Health Austin provides an abundance of educational opportunities and professional connections for our students,” shares Tanya Voss, MSSW, who serves as the Assistant Dean for Field Education at SHS. “Our shared interprofessional education endeavors are invaluable.”

UT Health Austin is also the site of many of the Steve Hick School’s research projects. “Our partnerships with the Dell Medical School and UT Health Austin ensure that active field researchers and active field students are bringing in the best research possible to advance the field of health social work,” says J.D. Moore, who serves as the Director of Marketing and Communications at SHS.

“Social workers offer a unique perspective in the healthcare setting because of their close interactions with the patient as an individual,” continues Moore. “A social worker is right alongside the patient in the room, interfacing directly with all different parts of a patient’s life. They’re working to understand a patient’s experience both inside and outside the clinic. If a patient has difficulty advocating for themselves, a social worker can ensure their voice is heard.”

If you are receiving care at UT Health Austin, you can ask to speak with a social worker.

To make an appointment with UT Health Austin, call 1-833-UT-CARES (1-833-882-2737) or visit here.

About UT Health Austin

UT Health Austin is the clinical practice of the Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin. We collaborate with our colleagues at the Dell Medical School and The University of Texas at Austin to utilize the latest research, diagnostic, and treatment techniques, allowing us to provide patients with an unparalleled quality of care. Our experienced healthcare professionals deliver personalized, whole-person care of uncompromising quality and treat each patient as an individual with unique circumstances, priorities, and beliefs. Working directly with you, your care team creates an individualized care plan to help you reach the goals that matter most to you — in the care room and beyond. For more information, call us at 1-833-UT-CARES or request an appointment here.