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First-of-Its-Kind Health Social Work Department at Dell Medical School Means Better Whole-Person Care for All

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Social work is being woven into Dell Medical School's pillars of education, clinical care, research and community impact.

AUSTIN, Texas — Dell Medical School and Steve Hicks School of Social Work at The University of Texas at Austin are advancing the role of social work as an agent of health care transformation through the creation of the new Department of Health Social Work within the medical school, the first of its kind in the nation.

Pending final approval by University of Texas System and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, the Department of Health Social Work is jointly operated by both schools and creates a formalized structure of collaboration to support the schools’ shared interprofessional missions. Clinical and nonclinical social workers at the medical school now have an academic home within the institution, as well as a bridge to the Steve Hicks School, through which to receive support for professional development, research and educational opportunities.

“Having a department of health social work embedded in Dell Med ensures that the health care we provide takes into account the whole person, including their family and their community,” said Barbara Jones, Ph.D., MSW, inaugural chair of the Department of Health Social Work.

“We are taking an important step toward including every voice and valuing everyone’s expertise within the fields of health care. This is a real boon for our profession,” said Jones, who will continue to serve as associate dean of health affairs and professor at the Steve Hicks School in addition to her new role at the medical school.

“Social work is critical to health care transformation, especially in the face of economic inequality and health disparities existing in our current health system,” said Clay Johnston, M.D., Ph.D., dean of the medical school. “A social worker starts where the person is and helps identify what matters most to each person. That’s essential in building a health system that places value on better health outcomes based on each individual’s needs.”

Currently, Dell Med is home to more than 20 social workers, about half of whom provide direct services to patients as part of UT Health Austin, the clinical practice of Dell Med. Within UT Health Austin’s clinics, social workers are a critical component of team-based care, working alongside physicians, nurses, dieticians, pharmacists, physical therapists and other skilled care providers to ensure that all aspects of a patient’s well-being are addressed through personalized care.

The addition of a health social work department also ensures further integration of social work into the education, research and community impact pillars of the medical school. This move is expected to enhance efforts such as the existing interprofessional curriculum and the Center for Health Interprofessional Practice and Education, as well as support nonclinical social workers already working within the medical school in disciplines ranging from population health and surgery to oncology and pediatrics.

“Together, Dell Med and the Steve Hicks School will help achieve the goal of transforming health care and interprofessional education by providing social workers a space to learn and exchange knowledge on state-of-the-art practices in social work, and collectively enhancing their contribution to UT Austin’s vision of revolutionizing personal and public health,” says Luis Zayas, Ph.D., dean of the Steve Hicks School of Social Work and professor of mental health and social policy.