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What difference can a social worker make in your child's hospital stay?

May 23, 2018

Valerie Dorsainvil, LCSW has been a Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Social Worker at Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children and Orlando Health Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies since 2016. Here, she answers some questions about what that means for the families of patients going through long-term treatments at the hospitals. 

1. How would you define the work you do at Orlando Health Arnold Palmer?

As a licensed mental health professional, I offer a mixture of clinical skills as well as case management.  I complete ongoing assessments of a family’s dynamics and needs in order to guide them as best I can. I assist with coping and adjusting to a new diagnosis, communicating with the healthcare team, addressing barriers to care such as insurance or transportation, coordinating supportive care such as home health nursing or specialty medications, and provide psychoeducation and brief counseling to address symptoms of anxiety, depression, behavioral issues or refer to ongoing outpatient counseling, if needed.  

2. What type of patients do you typically work with?

 I am assigned to work within Pediatric Oncology and Hematology, which includes the inpatient unit and outpatient clinic. I have patients with blood disorders such as Sickle Cell, Hemophilia, or Aplastic Anemia and lots of different types of cancers outside of brain tumors. However, there are times in which I assist my team during vacations, weekends or holidays. During those times, I could potentially see any patient within Orlando Health Arnold Palmer or Orlando Health Winnie Palmer. 

3. People sometimes think the term “social work” has a negative connotation, how do you help change this perception with your clients?

 When someone has a negative connotation about social work, it usually is due to a past experience that didn’t go as expected. So, I usually assume when walking into the room that most people don’t fully understand what I do. Social workers are in many settings and the roles can be different. I usually explain my role like this… “I am here to help with the things having a sick child affects. Medical questions are for doctors and nurses, life questions will usually come to me.”  It is a clear way for them to grasp how my involvement is a benefit to their family and recognize someone is able to help guide, support and assist them in all the logistics that go into caring for a sick child. We talk about their child’s school needs, how it will affect their job and possibly their finances, coordinating transportation to and from the multiple appointments and how to connect them to other resources and services within the community they may not even know exist. In the midst of these planning conversations, we also provide emotional support and teach them therapeutic techniques to help cope with the emotional and mental stress a hospital admission can cause.  

4. What is the most rewarding part of your job?

I often get involved with a family during the most terrifying time of their life; when they are being told their child has an illness that is going to affect everything. It is an extremely personal moment to sit with a family and the patient to process all their thoughts and feelings. There can be so many uncertainties, and treatment is a rollercoaster of emotions and events. Yet, children and families are so resilient. They go through this journey and grow, learn, and change. I get to witness those same patients and families later conquer the very situations and experiences they believed they could never handle and overcome. I get to personally witness the strength of love and the human spirit. 

There is nothing more powerful or more meaningful to my job than that. 

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