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The Health Social Worker Role

"We are really the only ones paying attention to that stuff"- Dr. Judith McCoyd, LCSW 

Health social workers play a vital role in assessing, educating, and advocating for patients within the hospital, especially for psychosocial issues. We are often the first to engage and counsel patients and their families after receiving critical news about their medical status (Gelbert & Browne, 2019; Rose & Shelton, 2006).


Health social workers must look beyond the presenting medical issue to consider the factors that support or negatively impact a patient’s health, including their coping with living losses. Due to the specific types of Underdiagnosed grief (UG) a patient may be experiencing while ill, our goal is to mitigate the development of maladaptive grief responses that may be created by neglecting the impact of UG on a patient's management of an illness.

Treating the Whole Person-Video highlights: 


  • Patients often mask their pain in medical settings to be "good patients." 

  • Health social workers must go beyond the routine biopsychosocial assessment and ask about their Underdiagnosed Grief. 

  • Allow patients to express all of their emotions.

What can health social workers do?


  • Be holistic in your assessment. 

  • Identify the patient's coping strengths.

  • Identify the patient's barriers to coping. 

  • Identify the living health losses that negatively impact the patient.

  • Explore the patient's ambivalence, frustration, or fear.

Impact of Underdiagnosed Grief and Non-Compliance - Video highlights:


  • Ignoring the health losses creates barriers to managing their comprehensive care. 

  • Underdiagnosed grief can lead to a patient's lack of acceptance of their illness and poor compliance issues.

Health social workers' assessment integration will:

  • Educate the treatment team on the connection between emotional distress and medical compliance. 

  • Educate the treatment team on the psychological and emotional strain a patient is experiencing. 

  • Create interventions with patients to decrease the negative impacts of loss. 

  • Shift from a blaming to an empathic stance by humanizing the patient's emotions. 

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