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HIGHLIGHTS | A Day in the life of a primary care social worker

  • Harborview primary care social workers work in an array of clinics, which include the Pediatric Clinic, International Medicine Clinic, Adult Medicine Clinic, Family Medicine Clinic, Pioneer Square Clinic, and Senior Care Clinic.
  • They collaborate within multidisciplinary teams to meet patients’ psychosocial, medical and day-to-day needs.
  • They are trained to stay calm in a crisis and help find solutions to complex situations.

From providing patient education to brief therapeutic interventions to offering resources, no two days are alike for primary care social workers.

“A typical day is an unpredictable day. That’s just part of the nature of social work: You never know what your day is going to be,” says Raphaelita Arviso, MSW, LICSW, who works in the International Medicine Clinic at Harborview Medical Center.

For Nasra Osman, MSW, SWAAL, who works with pediatric patients and recently resettled refugees, it’s all about being flexible.

“For me it’s working with whoever comes in the door and whatever the need is for the day. I work with multiple patients, and they could be people already on my schedule or not. There’s also a lot of follow up and care coordination that happens,” she says.

The Harborview primary care social work team is embedded in multiple clinics which include the Pediatric Clinic, International Medicine Clinic, Adult Medicine Clinic, Family Medicine Clinic, Pioneer Square Clinic, and Senior Care Clinic. Here, Arviso and Osman give a glimpse into the work they do.

Osman and Arviso

Osman (left) and Arviso (right) start the day reviewing information on the patients and their schedules.

A day in the life

Social work is first and foremost about helping people.

Harborview primary care social workers see patients with an array of life experiences, from fleeing Afghanistan in fear of the Taliban, to being unaccompanied minors from Central America, to living with poverty and homelessness in Seattle.

Harborview serves individuals and families who are non-English speaking and utilize Harborview Medical Center Interpreter Services, who provide language assistance in over 100 languages. In the Pediatric Clinic, Osman serves this diverse, medically and psychosocially complex population of children to young people up to 21 years old.

“As a front-line clinical social worker, I build rapport and relationships with children and families to provide services in the areas of prevention and advocacy,” Osman says.

On any given day, she could be completing biopsychosocial assessments; conducting crisis intervention in cases of abuse, violence or neglect; assisting in accessing essential resources like food, shelter and mental health care; and helping patients navigate systems like social security, behavioral health services or the education system.

Over at the International Medicine Clinic, Arviso spends her time working with a similar population of adults to help them access essential resources, process trauma and grief, and navigate cultural nuances so they can make informed decisions about their care.

“Social workers help patients who experience significant loss and grief. As part of dealing with concrete needs and day-to-day tasks, it becomes vital to establish a trusting relationship with patients. This in turn helps patients be able to feel more vulnerable to the work of processing traumatic experiences and work toward healing,” she says.

Arviso and Osman also attend daily huddles to collaborate with the clinical team and determine how best to support and care for patients.

“We’re constantly working with a high number of people from multiple disciplines to get patients what they need,” Osman says.

Arviso and Burkhalter

Social workers coordinate with interdisciplinary teams, including psychiatrists, nurses, psychologists, cultural case managers, nutritionists and medical providers. Arviso and co-worker Heather Burkhalter, an assistant nurse manager, strategize to meet patients’ medical, mental health and concrete needs.

Responding to crisis

In addition to planned appointments and interventions, social workers can be pulled to respond to an urgent crisis, be it aiding someone who needs immediate food or shelter, helping a patient navigate transportation to receive medical care, or assessing an individual in a mental health emergency.

“Whether it’s mental health, housing or kids with behavioral needs, part of our training is to assess a situation, stay calm and work through it,” Osman says.

Self-care to serve others

This work is significant and can be difficult and complex — so both Arviso and Osman emphasize the need to practice self-care to keep themselves going. At the end of a hard day, they find creative ways to de-stress and show themselves care.

“I’ve learned I need to pour in my own cup and take care of myself — whether that’s tapping into my spirituality and religion, spending time with my family or taking time off when I need to,” Osman says.

Similarly, Arviso takes time to de-stress by debriefing with colleagues, going on walks or watching music videos by her current favorite band, BTS.

After taking some time to rest and recharge, the team is back at it.

“We do a lot that is very important to the mental and physical health of human beings and although the work continues day in and day out, it is very rewarding,” Arviso says.

Photo Caption: Nasra Osman and co-worker, Nafiso Hussein, a health navigator. Photo Courtesy of Nasra Osman.