Leading Health Care Transformation Through Equity & Engagement
The first of its kind in the nation, the Department of Health Social Work is a collaboration of Dell Medical School and the Steve Hicks School of Social Work at The University of Texas at Austin. Jointly operated by both schools, the department creates an academic home for social workers and other integrated behavioral health providers to:
- Improve the health of individuals, families and communities;
- Create value in health care;
- Innovate new models of health social work and integrated behavioral health practice; and
- Build civic and community engagement and connections.
Areas of Focus
Social workers at Dell Med and UT Health Austin are trained to understand the needs of people in their environments, taking into consideration not only their physical and mental health, but also the environmental context in which patients and families live in order to holistically assess and improve overall health and social function.
Members of the department provide direct services to patients at UT Health Austin, the clinical practice of Dell Med, and other care settings in Travis County. Social workers play a key role in UT Health Austin’s team-based approach, collaborating with physicians, nurses, dietitians, pharmacists, physical therapists and other skilled care providers to ensure that all aspects of a patient’s well-being are addressed. This idea of a holistic approach to health is why Donna Shanor, director of clinical social work and integrated behavioral health, at UT Health Austin, has dedicated her life to social work.
Social workers at Dell Med and UT Health Austin are trained to provide patients with equitable, culturally relevant, person-in-environment interventions that respond to the wants and needs of underrepresented communities seeking care. Providers offer culturally congruent interventions that address the inequities in the health of marginalized communities. Social workers promote health justice in the system by working alongside community members and promoting equitable and just access to quality care and information to enhance health and quality of life.
The department partners with the Center for Health Interprofessional Practice and Education and UT Austin’s health professional schools to create interprofessional educational opportunities that can transform health professions education.
The department serves as an academic home for clinical and nonclinical social workers, supporting practitioners in disciplines ranging from population health and surgery to oncology and pediatrics. The team creates opportunities for social workers to learn and exchange knowledge on state-of-the-art practices in the field while also connecting them to existing resources on campus.
Embedding social workers in the medical school ensures their vital expertise is included in work to evolve new models of person-centered, multidisciplinary care that rewards value. The department weaves social work into Dell Med’s pillars of education, clinical care, research and health beyond the clinic, and it is home to the Institute for Military and Veteran Family Wellness.
The department also plays a key role in reimagining the entire continuum of care for brain health as part of the Austin State Hospital redesign led by Dell Med in partnership with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. Researchers, clinicians, physicians in training, social workers and youth advocates partner together to address the full spectrum of care for mental health, supporting people and families in Central Texas and beyond. Download an overview to learn more about this collaborative approach.
The Department of Health Social Work at Dell Med puts social workers at the center of clinical units and focuses on improving the health of individuals and communities. Understanding the impact social work interventions have on social determinants of health has the potential to improve health systems locally and beyond. While there is some literature about the effectiveness of interdisciplinary care teams that include social workers, there is considerably less research on the effectiveness of the social work component of these interventions.
Through clinician-led and community-based research, the department aims to illuminate the ways in which social work is a crucial component of integrated models of care and identify best practices for social workers within outpatient settings, particularly within varied specialty clinics. The department’s research infrastructure and collaborative efforts across UT provides the support necessary for clinical staff to seek the most up-to-date research knowledge to assess social work effectiveness in terms of meaningful patient outcomes as well as social barriers to care.