Print this page    •   Back to Web version of article

HIV in the Classroom: Social Work Students Discuss Matching Medicine With Compassion

June 18, 2013

HIV in the Classroom: Social Work Students Discuss Matching Medicine With Compassion

Social worker and longtime HIV activist Terri Wilder didn't take an "HIV and Social Work" class at either her undergraduate or graduate institutions -- because such a course wasn't offered. Now, Wilder teaches the class she never got to take, to a group of budding social workers as a professor at Fordham University. We caught up with four students from Wilder's "HIV and Social Work" graduate course -- Ashley, Tina, Megan and Justin -- and asked them about why they took the class, how social work fits into the field of HIV treatment and care, and how the course is helping them become better professionals.

Get Started
Ashley Turner

Why did you decide to take a class on HIV and social work?

Ashley Turner: I work in HIV. I actually work at an HIV primary care center at Brooklyn Hospital. So, I took this class to enhance my service to my clients and hopefully get a different perspective on what's going on in the HIV community, and to see what different organizations are doing the HIV community.

Tina Bruciati

Why did you decide to take a class on HIV and social work?

Tina Bruciati: I really want to get involved in medical social work. I really want to use my degree to do something in the medical field, and this class offered me the opportunity to do something medical. I also wanted to learn about HIV specifically, because I know there's such a huge population of people living with HIV here in New York City that when I graduate and I'm working in the field, a lot of the people I come into contact with may be HIV positive, or have just been diagnosed or something. I don't know what kind of job I'm going to end up getting, but I know that I didn't know a lot about the disease; and it's such a predominant disease in New York City that I needed to educate myself a little bit more than if I lived somewhere else.

Megan Springsted

Why did you decide to take a class on HIV and social work?

Megan Springsted: I'm a student in the graduate MSW program here at Fordham University. My uncle died of AIDS complications in 1995, so when I was thinking of going back to school and pursuing social work, and I saw this course become available, I thought, "I want to know what's going on with AIDS" -- because I only have a history of knowing about it through his experience, but there's been several years since then. So I was thinking, "What's happening? What's going on?" Thinking that, in social work, I'm going to have some clients who are living with HIV/AIDS, so I need to know what's going on with the disease.

Justin

Why did you decide to take a class on HIV and social work?

Justin: I felt like I really needed to take the course because, being a social worker, it's a population that you're going to run into in the field we work in. I felt like I really wasn't prepared to work with someone who was living with HIV/AIDS, so I felt like this was a cornerstone, or a foundation.

Ashley Turner

What is the most pertinent thing you think you've learned in the course to your career as a social worker?

Ashley: HIV is still an extremely serious issue, and it's being pushed to the side; it needs to be brought back to attention. I don't think it gets the attention it needs, and it intersects with every single issue that goes on in a human's life. So, just to keep it in the forefront and always know what it is.

Tina Bruciati

What is the most pertinent thing you think you've learned in the course to your career as a social worker?

Tina: I think just the biology of the disease and the medicines that go with having the disease. I never knew how it worked. All of the biology and the history helped me to understand more about the disease, because going into this class I really didn't know anything about it. I knew you could get HIV from having sex and doing drugs, and that's all I knew. Before this class, if my client came to me and said, "I just got diagnosed with HIV," I'd be like, "Oh, I'm sorry," and that's all I would've been able to offer, because I didn't know anything about what they're going through or what their situation was like.

Megan Springsted

What is the most pertinent thing you think you've learned in the course to your career as a social worker?

Megan: That it is definitely something that I'm going to be dealing with with my clients -- assisting them with the resources that they need. I wasn't aware that so many were still getting HIV, the statistics that are out there. Especially who is getting the virus -- the minority population, women, are still getting the virus in high numbers. Those statistics were new to me. I wasn't aware of that. Where I live in South Jersey, I don't live in the city, so I don't know what's going on all the time in the community. It's not spoken about. It's gonna be good for me to know what's going on and what are the statistics -- they really surprised me.

Justin

What is the most pertinent thing you think you've learned in the course to your career as a social worker?

Justin: I think probably how to address the population as not being "victim" or "survivor" but as someone "living with HIV/AIDS," you know it's very important to say living with HIV/AIDS.

Ashley Turner

HIV is becoming increasingly biomedical. What do you think social workers bring to the conversation that can complement the medical side of HIV care?

Ashley: Definitely give exposure to empathy to medical providers. Hopefully as social workers we can let them know that these are human beings they're treating. They're not test subjects. They're not inanimate objects that don't have feelings. You need to be empathetic and understanding and kind to these people and all people. You wouldn't treat an HIV-negative person differently from an HIV-positive person. So I think it's good to be kind of an advocate and a support system for your client.

Tina Bruciati

HIV is becoming increasingly biomedical. What do you think social workers bring to the conversation that can complement the medical side of HIV care?

Tina: That's a hard one. You know how some doctors don't have good beside manner, whereas social workers are more "feeling" type people? I guess we are "people-people," and we know how to relate to people on a different level without putting medicine and statistics and other things into it. I just think that having that compassion; and also, doctors give you your diagnosis and send you out the door. Social workers can complement that diagnosis by linking people to services or talking to the client and finding out what they need, as far as housing, medical care. Social workers, we are the link to all the outside services. A lot of medical practices probably wouldn't go above and beyond to help people after the diagnosis, whereas social workers -- that's what we're trained to do.

Megan Springsted

HIV is becoming increasingly biomedical. What do you think social workers bring to the conversation that can complement the medical side of HIV care?

Megan: Probably the human component of it. We have to advocate for our clients and get them the resources they need. It's not always about the medicine, it's about all the other parts of what a human needs to have a good life.

Justin

HIV is becoming increasingly biomedical. What do you think social workers bring to the conversation that can complement the medical side of HIV care?

Justin: I think, because HIV/AIDS isn't in the media as much, that people see it almost as being cured, and you have to really correct people's misconceptions that it is still a big deal. Even if you get it you can live so many years, but it's still a big deal, a huge epidemic, and it's not something to bat an eye at. I think people don't take it as seriously as they once did.

Terri Wilder

Can you tell us why you decided to teach a class called "HIV and Social Work" here in New York City?

Terri Wilder: Well, I'm fortunate that I work for Fordham University and they decided to offer it. Because I didn't have the opportunity when I was getting my bachelor's and my master's to take a class called "HIV and Social Work," because it wasn't available. So, one of the reasons why I teach it is because it's available to be taught. It's one of the classes I'm most passionate about. I teach it every semester that I'm able to, because I think it's really critical to have a place for social workers to learn about HIV, to learn about our history in HIV social services, and also just to make sure that social workers have a place, whether they think they're going to work in HIV or not.

I always start out my class by saying, "Whether you want to have a career in HIV social services or not, I promise you, you will have a client who is living with HIV. And social workers are a lot of times the people who wear multiple hats at organizations. We're educators, we're brokers, we're advocates, and having a really good basic understanding of HIV, I think, is really critical. Because there's nothing worse in the world than having a client who comes to you and you don't know how to help them. So I think this "HIV and Social Work" class at Fordham University is really important in social work education, and I'm really grateful that Fordham University has taken leadership in offering it to their students.




This article was provided by TheBodyPRO.com. You can find this article online by typing this address into your Web browser:
http://www.thebodypro.com/content/71458/hiv-in-the-classroom-social-work-students-discuss-.html

General Disclaimer: The Body PRO is designed for educational purposes only and is not engaged in rendering medical advice or professional services. The information provided through The Body PRO should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or a disease. It is not a substitute for professional care. If you have or suspect you may have a health problem, consult your health care provider.