As a licensed clinical social worker, alumnus Jennifer Rodriguez, LCSW, MPH ’18 serves each day with compassion and a genuine desire to help. She is currently Care Coordinator with Hackensack Meridian Health in New Jersey. She provided insight on her career path and what drives her to make a difference. She spoke with the department’s Public Health Career Services team.
What inspires you about your work?
I love helping people. I always have, and I absolutely love medicine. I’m able to be on multiple units a day, and have served the cardiac care unit, surgical intensive care unit, medical intensive care unit, neonatal intensive care unit, inpatient psychiatry, Mother/Baby, Step-Down, outpatient and inpatient oncology. I have the opportunity to work with so many health professionals on various teams. I have worked with MDs, PAs, APNs, NPs, RNs, PTs, OTs, PCTs, and so many others. It’s so awesome how much exposure I get to different disciplines. Best of all I serve from beginning of life to end of life. The hospital setting pushes me to gain more knowledge each day and provides me with the challenge I need.
How did you set out to achieve your career goals?
As a medical social worker, my goal was to work in large hospital settings. I loved medicine and public health. I knew that getting my Master of Public Health would give me an incredible foundation in health policy and health education, and provide me with the tools I needed to really make a difference in that setting.
I absolutely loved the curriculum. Epidemiology was my favorite. I was also fortunate enough to land a practicum in New York City with a federally qualified health system. I was able to fly up to Sacramento with professor Cousineau’s health policy class. As a health policy student, I also took classes at the University Park Campus. There was so much diversity in my classes and it made the experience that much richer.
What was your journey upon graduation?
I landed a job at White Memorial Medical Center in Boyle Heights. My supervisor was a former Master of Social Work Trojan and I had cold emailed her. I was offered the job on the spot. I had finally landed an incredible opportunity at a hospital I had been applying to for three years. I then moved to New Jersey with my husband and have worked at two other massive hospitals. I am a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in California and New Jersey. I have worked in five major hospitals thus far, and my MPH has taught me how to leave an imprint on each unit I’ve been on.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I am assigned to different units throughout the hospital each week. I also get to give social work consultations through the hospital. I will see patients, complete their biopsychosocials and help them with discharge planning. I have to attend rounds for the unit I’m assigned to and multidisciplinary team meetings. I work four 10-hour shifts. There’s a lot of collaboration that’s involved both within the hospital and out.
[Now with COVID-19] I have to wear a mask and face shield at all times. I have my temperature checked each shift. The stress and anxiety people have experienced over COVID-19 is real. It has caused so many families to lose loved ones and there are patients who have been in the hospital since April fighting for their life. We still have a wave of patients who come in testing positive. We are not allowed to see them face to face. It is a very difficult time to work in a hospital.
[In general,] the emotional fatigue you experience after very hard days [can be tough]. Social workers are sent to complete demise consultations and it can be very difficult to not take that home with you at the end of the day. But helping people who are at their most vulnerable state find strength [is very rewarding].
What have you learned about health through your work?
A health education component is what may be lacking in our communities. Hospitals bear the brunt of treating sick patients but rarely go out and do the preventative work. We need to make ourselves a stronger presence in the community in order to establish trust and help people understand disease. We should be leaning towards doing more to make health literature more accessible to everyone. We are always making greater strides to combat mental health stigma. It is very much so the responsibility of social workers to deconstruct those stereotypes that keep people from seeking care.
Check your bias. Never assume anything about anyone. Always be a kind and caring person to everyone. You absolutely may be the last interaction they have with a health system and can be the reason they either continue to seek care or don’t.
What do you see for your future?
I am in a position of change. My MPH really sparked my confidence and I may pursue a Master’s in Physician Assistant. I’ve gained so much knowledge during my career path and know the value I could bring to that profession. Communities of color are in continued need for other minorities to pursue careers in medicine. I am proudly answering that call by having submitted to several schools this cycle. Dream big. If you can imagine it, you can do it. There are so many things you can do with an MPH.
Learn more about the Master of Public Health program at USC.