Research is one of the cornerstones of our school. Our faculty and students are passionately engaged in examining populations, data and theories, and in spending time finding evidence-based solutions. These annual awards help us shine a spotlight on some of the intense and important work that’s being done here.
Professor Deborah Waldrop received the award for faculty research. Her project, “Improving Communication: Serious Illness Conversations in Chronic and End Stage Renal Disease,” addressed the urgent need to improve the quality of communication between healthcare professionals and people living with chronic kidney disease (CKD) and end-stage renal disease (ESRD).
Her abstract posited that, because CKD/ESRD confer tremendous morbidity and mortality, they bring different challenges and choices from other serious illnesses. Nephrologists frequently report significant barriers to engaging patients and families in frank conversations about CKD/ESRD’s realities.
Patient-provider communication is also fragmented by strong emotions that create personal barriers to understanding the disease trajectory, especially when multimorbidity makes prognostication difficult.
Waldrop used a 2-group longitudinal cohort design with pre- and post- intervention interviews with people who have CKD and ESRD. The intervention involved adapting the nationally recognized Serious Illness Conversation Guide to facilitate conversations between providers and patients, with the aim of determining both how the guide can be adapted and the best timing for such a conversation. The results will benefit patient understanding and inform better, more effective patient education.
In her nomination of Waldrop and her research, Jacqueline McGinley, PhD ’18, noted that estimates indicate that 14.8% of the population has CKD—and more than 89,000 patients with ESRD die each year in the US.
“Dialysis patients often experience existential distress; the burden of physical and psychosocial symptoms is high,” she wrote. “Many dialysis patients consider end-of-life options and have been found to welcome the opportunity to engage in [these] discussions with trained facilitators, including social workers. While nephrologist prepare patients for progression from chronic to end-stage kidney disease, few engage in discussions of prognosis or goals of care.”
The Renal Physicians Association and the American Society of Nephrology guidelines recommend shared decision-making between patients and the nephrology care team. “Recent research exploring the feasibility of shared decision-making suggests that it is most effective when implemented by a nephrologist-social worker team,” McGinley added, which increases the applicability of this research to the field of social work.
Carol Scott, PhD ’19, was awarded the honor for her exploratory project, “Time Spent Online: Latent Profile Analyses of Emerging Adults’ Social Media Use and Study 2: General and Alcohol-Specific Social Media Engagement Profiles Predict Emerging Adults’ Drinking Outcomes,” focused as much on how youth spend their time online (i.e., degree of engagement), as well as on the amount of time they spend online.
Scott and her colleagues explored survey data from 249 U.S. emerging adults (ages 18-26) regarding their social media use (SMU). They found that high frequency social media users tended to be women and to have more Facebook friends. Highly engaged users (i.e., those most interactive online) tended to be white and more highly educated.
These findings indicate that youth SMU frequency and SMU engagement warrant separate consideration. In his nomination of Scott for this award, Brad Linn, PhD ’18, MSW ’12, said, “Carol ultimately wants to transition her research to intervention studies—how social media could be used to transit harm reduction or alcohol education messages to young people; this has the potential to reach a huge number of people. And, the knowledge gained has the potential to be useful for social workers, educators, parents and other caregivers and many other allied health professions.”
Research Professor Tom Nochajski echoed that sentiment, in his description of the significance of Scott’s work. “The fact that Carol’s first paper has already been cited in subsequent papers, indicates that it has captured other scholars’ interests. The implications of her work for practice include a deepening of our knowledge of the deleterious effects of social media use, which is nearly ubiquitous with our clients. Any knowledge of a factor that shapes our behavior has a direct implication for practice.”
And, in her nomination of Scott, Professor Gretchen Ely noted that research about social media and its use has the potential to expand the knowledge base and allow those in the field to explore how social media may be useful for research and interventions.
Each year, we acknowledge two of our most outstanding field educators. They are nominated by their peers, coworkers or students. It’s an honor for us to have so many dedicated professionals sharing their experience with our students, and we thank each of you, who give your time and experience to help form our newest professionals. It gives us great pleasure to introduce this year’s awardees to you, our readers.
The next field education award went to Aimee L. Neri, LMSW (MSW ’06). Neri is the liaison in the 8th Judicial District for the New York State Child Welfare Court Improvement Project; in that role she works to integrate trauma-informed practices in family court.
In her nomination of Neri of the Court Improvement Project (CIP), Tosca Miserendino, MSW ’19, who interned with Neri, said, “Aimee is commited to improving the Child Welfare System by working toward creating a more trauma-informed court system.”
Neri also facilitates trauma trainings for Family Court employees, to help them understand how compassion fatigue and secondary trauma can impact their work. “This is especially important when we consider the staff’s constant exposure to the traumatic stories of others, and how these might trigger their own unresolved traumas,” added Miserendino.
Field education is a win-win, notes Neri, allowing experienced social workers to contribute to students’ practical learning professional development while providing students with real time application of theoretical perspectives at all levels, in a safe and supportive learning and growing environment.
“Field educators also have an amazing opportunity to support students as they develop their self-supervision process” she said. “So, when they move into the workforce, they can feel better equipped to practice self-awareness, be honest with themselves about their practice, and create plans for continued independent and collaborative growth within their professional support networks.”
Joseph Pace, LCSW, a social worker with the Cortland Enlarged City School District who is specifically assigned to Barry Elementary School, was one of the recipients of the 2019 honor.
"Being a field educator affords me the opportunity to share my knowledge, experience and expertise with aspiring social workers. It's my way of paying forward what my field educators gave to me,” said Pace. “In addition, it enriches and enhances my professional experience—the students who do field placements with us are valuable assets, bringing fresh perspectives which can be inspiring.”
In her nomination of Pace for the Outstanding Achievement in Field Education Award, Sara Egan, an MSW online student who participated in field work with him, said, “Joe takes his field educator role seriously. His emphasis on trauma-informed practice in his work supports my learning in important ways. In addition, I am appreciative of how knowledgeable Joe is when it comes to applying theory and various evidence-based approaches to our work.”
As for his example as a social work professional, she added, “Joe consistently models excellent social work values, interacting thoughtfully and professionally with everyone he encounters: children, families, teachers, other professionals. He is always respectful of those who may have different viewpoints or backgrounds from his.”