I am a clinical social worker who teaches family medicine resident physicians how to integrate psychosocial and family issues into medical care. As a faculty member in a family medicine residency program, I sometimes feel like an anthropologist in a foreign culture where survival can be challenging. Clinical social workers and clinical psychologists often hold these positions, since the ACGME (Accrediting Council for Graduate Medical Education) requires a behavioral science faculty member for program accreditation. I also provide clinical care to individuals, and to couples and families, in addition to developing curriculum, presenting at meetings, and research and publishing in peer-reviewed journals.
In today’s evidence-based, fast-paced medical care, physicians sometimes have precious little time for humanistic and family-systems orientation. For a clinical social worker in this environment, each day is a challenge to keep the “family” in family medicine. In my various roles as clinician, educator, and consultant, I reinforce the importance of the psychosocial aspects in the process of healing. For example, when a resident physician presents a case, the attending faculty physician and I co-precept the case from our disciplines’ perspectives to give the resident a bio-psychosocial view, and to assist in accessing community resources. Precepting is an important part of medical education. During this process, a resident presents a case to the attending faculty who reviews the resident’s diagnosis and treatment plan.
Medical education is rigorous and stressful: residency training is a 24/7 process, without semester breaks or long summer vacations. I start early, work long hours, and thoroughly enjoy the stimulating educational environment and teamwork.
I especially enjoy my clinical work as a leader of Balint Groups (www.americanbalintsociety.org). Balint is a confidential group process that helps physicians manage difficult doctor-patient relationships. It reminds all of us that the relationship between patient and practitioner, whether in clinical social work or in family medicine, is at the heart of healing.