Rebecca Lawrence, MSW, LCSW is a Care Dimensions hospice social worker. Since 2018, Rebecca has served our patients in greater Boston. Recently, we sat down with Rebecca to ask about her professional career and daily work as a hospice social worker.
I actually started out in a nursing program in college because I thought I wanted to be an emergency room nurse. But I soon realized that what I loved most was sitting with patients and families and spending time really getting to know them. So I started looking for a career that would let me work with people for the entirety of their care, to see them through to the end of their treatment or journey. When I found medical social work, it felt like the perfect fit.
I’ve worked in outpatient mental health, inpatient addiction treatment, with foster children, in outpatient radiation and chemotherapy, and with children on the autism spectrum. I enjoyed everything I did, but oncology and medicine have always been my passions. I watched many people go through cancer treatment and saw some very happy endings, but I always wanted to know what happened to my patients who weren’t cured. I knew there was so much more to my patients’ stories after treatment ended. So when I was given the chance to intern in a hospice in my graduate program, I jumped at the chance to work with patients who were entering the last phase of their lives. Hospice care turned out to be wonderful, and I haven’t left since.
Hospice really allows me to use all of my social work skills. Our patients come to us when they have a life-limiting illness, but they and their families may also be experiencing all sorts of other difficult situations, such as poverty, mental illness, grief, substance use, and family problems. We meet people of all ages and backgrounds. In hospice, we have the opportunity to help people in concrete ways, such as connecting them with resources, but we can also provide counseling, grief support, and education.
A common misconception is that social workers are only needed if someone is having a major life problem. While we are highly trained and skilled professionals, there doesn’t always need to be a big issue or concrete need for a social worker to visit a patient or family. We often visit just to get to know people and provide an extra layer of comfort and support. It’s often in those conversations that we discover ways to improve a patient’s quality of life or ways we can bring relief or joy.
I love going to work each morning knowing that I will learn something new or hear a wonderful story. Every day here is new and different, and I’ve been able to work on some unique projects with families. With one 22-year-old patient who has cancer, I am helping her to get her young adult novel written and edited. I had another patient who loved art, and she and I used to sit together coloring mandalas to put up on her window. She loved having the extra color in her room.
Overall, I like knowing that I make a difference in my patients’ lives. Seeing the little bit of happiness, relief, understanding, or comfort I can bring to a family is truly a gift.
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