When someone experiences a complex health issue, the illness affects their entire life. Medical social workers play a leading role in holistically integrating all aspects of a patient’s care with their personal life and support systems. They collaborate with other health care professionals, such as doctors and rehabilitation therapists, to provide mental health services, such as counseling related to a diagnosis and treatment, as well as assistance with the transition back home, and making referrals for housing, financial and legal assistance, and transportation. Thanks to a gift from Pamela and Daniel Weisdorf, CEHD is providing additional opportunities for students in this field.
Pamela Weisdorf realized the importance of medical social workers when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in her 30s. Throughout her care, she noticed how little support there was for patients and families in her situation, and was inspired to enroll at the U for a master’s in social work.
She met Daniel, now in his 41st year as a professor of medicine, when they both worked in the University of Minnesota Blood and Marrow Transplant Program. Daniel has a specialty in hematology/oncology, making him acutely aware of the stress felt by cancer patients and the significance of social workers in alleviating it.
The Weisdorfs began talking with School of Social Work faculty about a collaboration between the school and the Academic Health Center, connecting future social workers with one of the top medical programs in the country. Professor Joseph Merighi, who has a specialty in the psychosocial aspects of end-stage renal disease, “jumped on it right away,” says Pamela. “He knew exactly what we were trying to do, and was familiar with how social workers could impact patients.”
Through consultation with Professor Merighi, Pamela and Daniel established the Weisdorf Oncology Social Work Fellowship to provide a clinical practice and training experience for students, enabling them to learn first-hand the power of interdisciplinary medical teams. “Our goal is to bring together the hospital and social work programs, improving health outcomes for cancer patients,” Pamela and Daniel say. “We had encouragement in our careers, and our family is proud to pay that back by supporting the U of M.”
Story by Ann Dingman | Photo courtesy of Pamela & Daniel Weisdorf | Winter 2021