Medical social workers do not hold scalpels or use stethoscopes, but often provide emotional support to patients and their families in wards, outpatient clinics and emergency rooms. They enable flexible arrangements of medical aid and connect and build the bond between doctors and patients. In October, 2021, PUMCH innovatively created job positions for medical social workers that own different programs respectively. Specifically, three medical social workers are responsible for “hospice and palliative care”, “aid to patients in greater need”, and “organ donation and new technologies” respectively. The medical social workers not only provide patients with emotional and psychological support, but also help connect patients with providers of social support. With their professional knowledge and heart-warming services, they help bridge the gap between medical services and patients’ social needs, bringing warmth and hope to patients and their family who are struggling to cope.
More than 100 years ago, Ida Pruitt came to Beijing and established the first social services department in China at PUMCH. To this day, Ida Pruitt Outpatient Care Volunteer Team are still there to provide outpatient assistance. “In the course of doing our work, we have realized that the medical team and patients need a bridge that can align them. Therefore, given the characteristics of PUMCH, we have started the recruitment of medical social workers for three programs respectively, namely, ‘hospice and palliative care’, ‘aid to patients in greater need’, and ‘organ donation and new technologies’. Chang Qing, Deputy Director of the Department of Medical Affairs and head of medical social workers, said that, with the support of the Peking Union Medical Foundation and the Shuidi Huiju Charity Foundation, PUMCH, after several rounds of screening, recruited one full-time medical social worker for each program. “Medical social workers also need to work on the frontline to better understand the needs of patients to provide more targeted services.”
Sun Chenchen, the medical social worker in charge of “hospice and palliative care”, majored in psychology. “Before joining PUMCH, I mainly worked in the field of education and training. I thought my current job in clinical settings is similar to what I did previously since they both are essentially about interacting with people. But I now realize their differences.” Sun Chenchen clearly remembers how nervous she was the first time she faced 7 family members of a patient in the resuscitation room when the patient’s needs and his family’s conflicted. Out of respect for the patient’s wishes, she talked to the family members for two hours. “What’s more important is to listen to and reassure them, perhaps with small gestures, such as holding their hands, patting the back, or handing a tissue when they are in tears,” she said. When a patient’s life is coming to an end, all Sun Chenchen and the medical team can do is help the patient to die a peaceful death and those loving him to say a proper goodbye.
Up till now, Sun Chenchen has served patients and their families on 73 occasions. Together with the hospice and palliative medical team, she provides psychosocial and emotional support to terminally ill patients and their families, offers individualized services for patients, and explores the cooperation model between hospice and palliative care and the emergency room. She hopes that more patients will feel loved, cared for and respected while they near the end of life.
“I’ll be discharged soon, thank you for your toy tiger,” said the first patient that Liu Jinhan took over in the orthopedic ward on January 27, 2022, thanking her for the toy tiger gift to celebrate the coming Chinese New Year of the Tiger. On November 15, 2021, due to the patient’s difficulty in paying the medical bills, the medical staff referred her to Liu Jinhan, a medical social worker in the program of “aid to patients in greater need”. Liu Jinhan followed up on the case for more than two months until the patient was discharged. During this period, she assisted the patient’s family in figuring out their local medical insurance policy and filing for the trans-provincial medical insurance coverage until their bills were directly settled. She exhausted every option to keep the treatment going for the patient, including applying for the PUMCH funding for those in greater need and coordinating private financial aid. She also visited the ward many times to accompany and encourage the patient and his family. Up to now, Liu Jinhan has served a total of 34 patients from 20 departments. She said: “I majored in social work and it is my hope to help patients in need in the most practical way possible.”
Another medical social worker that majored in social work is Wang Min in the program of “organ donation and new technologies”. She is responsible for identifying and following up with potential donors, persuading them or their family to donate organs, providing counseling and support for donors’ families and coordinating with transplant teams. “At first I often struggled with self-doubt: isn’t organ donation persuasion a bit too cruel when the family members are still under excruciating pain? But in the process of talking to them, I also made peace with myself: it is a way for donors to continue their presence in this world and the recipients are a source of solace for donors’ families.” Wang Min said that because each donor’s family background is different, the medical team needs to repeatedly communicate with them about the diagnosis and treatment in each case, build trust with the family and provide them with emotional support. “Being more sensitive and caring with donors’ families makes them feel warm.”
To cure sometimes, to relieve often, to comfort always. In the future, medical social workers will continue to attend to the needs of both doctors and patients, focus on individual cases in the context of the overall program, help patients receive better treatment, help patients and their families gain access to resources, address disease-induced financial, family and psychological problems, etc. All their efforts aim at providing compassionate care to patients and making the world a better place.
The three medical social workers from left to right: Sun Chenchen, Liu Jinhan and Wang Min
Reporter: Wang Jingxia
Correspondent: Sun Chenchen, Liu Jinhan and Wang Min
Picture courtesy: The Department of Medical Affairs
Translator: Liu Haiyan
Editor: Wang Yao