Smith: The power of social work

Josiah Smith, Staff Columnist

Usually, there is nothing special about a routine doctor’s visit. The experience seems to be designed that way—to be uneventful, take way too long and to steal a rather large chunk of precious Netflix-viewing time. The waiting room magazines are always from five years ago and once you finally find an article that seems worth your while, you hear your name loudly called through the pin-drop silence so that your check-up may begin.

What’s next is probably similar to how veterinarians handle a zoo animal. They weigh you, measure your height, take your blood pressure and stick a cold plastic probe in your mouth to gauge your temperature. The experience is entirely impersonal and scientific.

My most recent visit began normally. That changed, however, when my doctor walked in—she wasn’t alone. With her was a young man who seemed to be newly graduated with whatever degree he had studied for. He had that everyday smile, a welcoming grin that you’d see while passing someone on the street. It put my worried self slightly at ease. We shook hands.

“Ben,” he said. “Nice to meet you.”

I offered a shallow smile with no verbal response. They both could tell that I was confused and growing a bit anxious about his presence. My doctor informed me that he was a social worker and had come to ask me a few questions if I was willing to answer.

Throughout the appointment, he asked me questions about my mental health and how I felt in general. We talked about sports, hiking, and when things were just about done, he asked me if there was anything he could do for me. As in, if there was any information I wanted him to retrieve or if I had any further questions. I let him go. In retrospect, I should’ve asked him exactly why he was there. Because his presence, dare I say, made the experience more pleasant. I was completely distracted throughout the appointment, and we discussed the most intriguing topic there is: me.

I learned later that Ben was there to ensure their patients, who were mostly students and young adults, were getting the full breadth of care. And it makes sense. Doctors increasingly feel overwhelmed by their duties. The nurses explained to me that doctors are usually overwhelmed with the burden of safeguarding a patient’s physical health. In the cases where it is not overwhelming, their focus shifts to nailing the correct diagnosis and then choosing an appropriate treatment path.

Given the increasing rate at which teens feel that they are ill-equipped for the emotional struggles they face, it’s surprising this practice was not implemented sooner.

This all goes to show how important social work is. Of course, this isn’t a perfect example of the impact of social work, but it shows a sort of new aspect of its scope. I would have never imagined how feeling cared for would impact the simplest of encounters. I can only hope that a full and complete exercise of social work expertise reaches those who need it, given its momentous and profound impact.

Josiah Smith is a fourth-year English and business management double major.