Why Social Work?

How a “defining moment” inspires a lifetime of driving impact and change

Reviewed by: Donna Shanor, LCSW, LCDC
Video by: Alyssa Martin
Written by: Lauryn Feil

The role of clinical social work in healthcare continues to evolve here at UT Health Austin as we integrate highly focused social workers into each clinical care space. From neurology and women’s health to cancer treatment, our social workers are an elevated part of the treatment process for patients. We sat down with UT Health Austin’s new Director of Clinical Social Work, Donna Shanor, LCSW, LCDC, to learn more about how UT Health Austin empowers collaboration between social workers and medical providers to treat the whole patient, not just their symptoms. But to really get the full picture of what drives Shanor each day, we went back to the beginning, back to why she chose social work, her “defining moment” as she describes it.

What it boils down to is making an impact. Just as that little boy who gave Shanor the rose after graduating the fifth grade made such an impact on her, Shanor and her experienced team of clinical social workers intend to make an impact here UT Health Austin.

“Our role here is to provide comprehensive and specialized care, and social work is a huge part of that. We want to know how the whole person is doing, because we know there’s a connection between the mind and the body, and social workers are experts at identifying that. We’re working as a team with the medical providers, and they depend on us. We might not be experts in neuroimmunology or surgery, but we are really good at connecting with people in their most vulnerable times, and there’s where impact is made.”

For our social workers, identifying unique obstacles to patients’ care means understanding that emotional health, mental health, and stress levels are all connected to physical health. Our social workers connect the dots and provide psychotherapy or supportive counseling for the patient as well as individual or family counseling to produce the desired health outcome: improved quality of life.

In addition to providing supportive counseling, UT Health Austin social workers are experts in assisting patients with the administrative tasks that often come with the diagnosis of a chronic disease. Social workers assist patients in scheduling MRI’s, lab tests, and other work necessary to support their diagnosis. Social workers walk patients through difficult paperwork including disability paperwork, a daunting task for patients and families in a time of grief.

Shanor and the UT Health Austin team of clinical social workers are transforming the way the world views social work as a part of comprehensive healthcare, and as a profession. “There is a stigma that comes with social work and we view this is an opportunity to challenge that idea.”

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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.