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With the theme “Social Work Matters,” Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) joined the rest of the nation last month to celebrate National Professional Social Work Month.

Social workers are professional clinicians who help people better manage their daily lives when adapting to difficult life challenges, such as transitions, illnesses, disabilities, or the death of a loved one. When patients and their loved ones suffer the devastating impact of a severe physical or emotional illness or injury, social workers assist them in overcoming these obstacles, said Dr. Dean Rueckert, a licensed certified social worker-clinical.

“Social workers have a unique way of viewing the person or individual as a member of families, communities and of society as a whole, and they may look to the larger system for resources in problem solving,” explained Rueckert. “Social work matters because social workers fill a vital gap that may exist between the medical management of physical or emotional illness or injury and the social impact [that] has on the patient and his or her family members.”

Rueckert, program director for the National Capital Consortium Social Work Fellowship in Child and Family Practice, also works in the Children’s Behavioral Health Clinic at WRNMMC and is the director of the Office of Professional Education, Training and Research for the Department of Social Work at WRNMMC.

“Our goal is help maximize potential and fulfillment in each individual’s life, regardless of the illness or injury, and that is why ‘Social Work Matters,’” Rueckert said.

“I find my work to be incredibly gratifying on a daily basis,” said Susan Harper, a social worker specializing in mental health and counseling in the Behavior Health Department at WRNMMC.

Harper started her career in a different field.

“I was practicing law,” she explained. “When co-workers were stressed out and often crying, I was able to talk to them, calm them down and help them through it. That’s when I realized I wanted to do it for a living and went back to school to earn a degree in social work.”

Harper said she loves her job because she likes figuring out “what makes people tick.”

Sherry Whitaker, a licensed clinical social worker on the Internal Medicine Wards at WRNMMC, said her interest in people led her to become a social worker.

“A guidance counselor gave me an interest exam and two careers stood out disc jockey and social worker,” Whitaker explained. She made up her mind then she was going to be a social worker. “I wanted to work with people in a real and meaningful way,” Whitaker said.

Tony Weidner, a former inpatient at WRNMMC, can’t say enough positive things about Whitaker, who helped with his discharge from WRNMMC to a rehabilitation facility.

“She was great,” said Weidner. He said Whitaker coordinated with social workers at the rehabilitation facility to formulate a personalized plan for his care and therapies.

“The last thing you want to do is worry about all the little details,” said Weidner. “She took a big weight off of my shoulders and made it a smooth process.”

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) first introduced National Professional Social Work Month in March 1963 to encourage public support and interest in social work as a profession. In 1984, the White House officially recognized March as National Professional Social Work Month.

There are more than 642,000 professional social workers in America, according to the NASW. Additionally, social workers are employed in more than 50 different fields of practice, but their work in eight core service areas is the most recognized. These areas include military and veterans assistance; adolescent and youth development; aging and family care-giving; child protection and family services; health care navigation; mental and behavioral health treatment; nonprofit management and community development; and poverty reduction.

For more information about Social Work at WRNMMC, call (301) 295-1719, or to learn more about social work in general, visit the website