Social Workers and Nurses Partnering in Hospital Settings
For hundreds of years, there has been a dynamic duo in the hospital setting: the social worker and nurse. A healthy partnership between social workers and nurses is vital as they both provide effective, holistic care. Here are 7 key elements of the partnership between social workers and nurses that contribute to positive patient outcomes:
1. Partnering in Patient-Centered Ethical Duties
In the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Code of Ethics (1996), social workers are ethically bound to support the dignity and worth of a patient. In the same way, the American Nursing Association (ANA) Code of Ethics (2015) calls for nurses to protect human dignity and patient rights. Each profession’s training requires a patient-centered focus.
2. Assessing a Patient’s Physical and Psychological Needs
Identifying needs and desires of a patient is one of the first steps of the social work and nursing team. As part of a multidisciplinary team, social workers and nurses contribute to the development of each patient’s treatment plan. The nurse will assess a patient’s medical and psychological needs and provide care to ensure that these needs are met according to their professional scope and standards, clinical guidelines, and best practices. Social workers also complete an evidence-based biopsychosocial assessment early in treatment to inform a patient’s individual treatment plan. This assessment serves as a guideline in discharge planning, where the social worker determines the various environmental, social, medical, and family supports that a patient will need upon discharge.
3. Advocating for Patient’s Autonomy and Rights
Social workers and nurses each play key roles to ensure that every part of a patient’s treatment is ethical, appropriate, and respectful. Both social workers and nurses remain aware of any barriers throughout a patient’s treatment, initiating investigations for abuse and neglect (as needed), informing a patient of their treatment options during care, maintaining confidentiality, and including them in all decisions regarding their treatment.
4. Answering Questions for a Patient or their Family
With a multitude of factors which require consideration in a patient’s treatment, it is natural for a patient and family to have questions concerning timeline, the treatment plan, medications, and long-term care. In this dynamic duo, nurses take the lead on conversations concerning a patient’s diagnosis, treatments, and medication management. In turn, the social worker takes the lead on conversations about long-term care plans, providing counseling in challenging situations, and connecting the family to needed resources. As such a dynamic duo, both the social worker and nurse ease a patient and their family’s minds, which can lead to better health outcomes. In fact, when patients are educated about their diagnosis and treatment plan better health outcomes can be expected (Fernsler, J. I. et al, 1991).
5. Individual and Group Counseling
Diagnosis and treatment plans can be challenging for patients and families. Making lifestyle changes to improve wellness can often seem overwhelming. A nurse's rapport with a family can create opportunities to offer emotional support and referral to a social worker if needed. A social worker may counsel patients and families individually to process these feelings and challenges in behaviors and skills to achieve recovery. In addition, patients and families may participate in group counseling sessions. Group counseling is an evidence-based practice that allows individuals to receive treatment together in a group with others who may be experiencing similar life stressors.
6. Providing Financial Planning and Assistance
In addition to concern for their loved ones, families frequently endure financial stress related to healthcare and hospital stays. While the nursing team works to ensure proper medical treatment and recovery, the social work team is tasked behind the scenes to address the financial situation with the family. As recovery is underway, social workers may refer patients to legal aid, federal financial assistance programs, community-based resources, and payment plans provided by the healthcare institution.
7. Developing Discharge Plans
Nurses and social workers alike are proponents of a patient living their best life after hospitalization. However, the social worker and nurse assist a patient and family leading up to discharge in different ways. The nurse will provide timely communication with a patient and family regarding medical assessments and ongoing care needs. This includes explaining to a patient and family regarding all necessary health information, medications, and other health needs. In a complimentary manner, the social worker’s role for discharge planning focuses on securing housing (or other accommodation) placement, financial resources, and social support. The social worker may coordinate ongoing patient and family assessment and counseling, follow-up, and community resources needed to ensure continuity of care after discharge.
The collaboration between social workers and nurses in hospital settings creates a dynamic duo. Together, they have the common goal of providing care to patients in ways that enhance patient outcomes. Partnering in ethical duties, assessing patients’ physical and psychological needs, advocating for patients’ rights, providing individual and group counseling, financial planning and assistance, and developing discharge plans are all ways that social workers and nurses work together toward providing excellent care.
Code of Ethics for Nurses. American Nurses Association. (2017, October 26). Retrieved November 17, 2022, from https://www.nursingworld.org/practice-policy/nursing-excellence/ethics/code-of-ethics-for-nurses/
Fernsler, J. I., & Cannon, C. A. (1991). The whys of patient education. Seminars in oncology nursing, 7(2), 79–86.
National Association of Social Workers. (1996). Code of ethics of the National Association of
Social Workers. NASW Press.
Social Workers in healthcare: How they make A difference. Adelphi University Online. (2021, June 10). Retrieved May 18, 2022, from https://online.adelphi.edu/articles/social-workers-in-healthcare-how-they-make-a-difference/
Williams, C. C., Bracht, N. F., Williams, R. A., & Evans, R. L. (1978). Social work and nursing in hospital settings: a study of interprofessional experiences. Social work in health care, 3(3), 311–322.