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March is Social Work Month, a celebration of the 116-year-old profession, according to Dr. Marie Salimbeni, service chief of the Education, Training and Research Service of the Social Work Department at Walter Reed Bethesda.

Social Work aims to improve social conditions and quality of life opportunities for everyone by improving relationships within families, making social support systems more effective and building stronger communities, Salimbeni added.

“It is an opportunity for the profession to showcase and educate others about the range of service we provide to patients of all different ages, branches of service, dependents and veterans, [as well as] learn skills about ways to help the patient and self,” Salimbeni explained.

Social Workers can be found in various clinics throughout the medical center, she said, an integral part of the patient’s experience at Walter Reed Bethesda.

“Many people may be surprised to know that social workers provide services in both inpatient and outpatient services,” Salimbeni said. “They can be found in the Emergency Room, Infectious Disease Clinic, Inpatient Wounded Warrior Service, Cleft Palate Clinic, OB/GYN, [Mother Infant Care Center], Infertility Clinic, Inpatient Pediatrics, Inpatient Hematology/Oncology, Plastic Surgery, Vascular Surgery, Neurology, Admission Planning Unit, Post Anesthesia Care Unit, Pain Clinic, General Surgery, Urology, Nephrology, Transplant, Dialysis Clinic and Outpatient Counseling.” Social workers can be found in other parts of the medical center, such as Fleet and Family, and Forensics, she said.

According to the licensed clinical social worker who also serves as director of the Social Work Fellowship in Child and Family Practice, the profession views the person from a bio-psycho-social-spiritual perspective. Salimbeni explained how the theme for this year’s Social Work Month, “All People Matter,” tied in with the medical center’s theme, “What I do matters,” as well as the four areas of the Prosperity Plan Initiative (spiritual, personal, professional, and relationships) introduced to Walter Reed Bethesda staff in January.

“If we look at the Prosperity Plan and the four initiatives, social work fits like a glove. What and how we do things has a direct correlation on how all persons served at Walter Reed Bethesda matter,” she said.

Chair yoga, Yoga, Tai Chi and Zen drawing were a few of the events offered during the month-long observation for social workers and other staff at Walter Reed Bethesda, to educate professionals of all different disciplines what social workers do, as well as identify and teach skills they could integrate in both patient care and self-care.

Army 1st Lt. Jason Pearce, a social work intern, and Amanda Heiser, a master’s-level social work student from the University of Alabama, coordinated the diverse selection of events for the month-long observance. Heiser said the Tai Chi workshop helped to promote wellness and prevention, as well as maintain resiliency.

“All people matter: our patients here at the hospital, people that we encounter, not only as social workers but also as other providers throughout the hospital,” she said. “A lot of times we’re always giving, giving, giving and we don’t stop to take care of ourselves and we thought that was extremely important so that’s why we opened these workshops to not only social workers but everyone — everyone matters,” Heiser explained.

Margaret Hardy, a certified, licensed clinical social worker at Walter Reed Bethesda led two sessions of Tai Chi, a gentle form of exercise often described as “meditation in motion”— a slow series of motions without pause. A social worker for 18 years, Hardy has studied Tai Chi for nearly the same length of time.

“Tai Chi gives us a sense of calmness and grounded-ness and balance in our lives. In order to help other people, we have to be very balanced and be able to take on the challenges and the mission to help other people to be the best that they can be,” Hardy explained. “In order to do that, we have to be the best that we can be.”

Pearce taught the Zen drawing workshop, a type of “doodling” as a meditation technique, using a structured pattern. The Soldier described the practice as a way to self-care, relax, de-stress and have a little fun aside from the daily grind.

“I love this,” explained one social worker in the workshop. “I’m loosening up,” said Kimberly Carden, a social work student from the University of Alabama, who described herself as “detail-oriented.” Carden said she was thinking about Zen drawing on a regular basis. “I’m too much of a planner, so it’s good to get me out of that, and “go with the flow,” she said.

“Walter Reed National Military Medical Center is a training hospital. One role of a social worker that is not always known is to teach and mentor the next generation of leaders in the field,” Salimbeni explained. “Their ideas and enthusiasm helped them to see how they can create change and see “what I do matters.”

The Department of Social Work hosts “The Secret to Happiness at Work” discussion on Wednesday, April 2 in Memorial Auditorium from 9:30 a.m. to noon. The session offers continuing education units (CEU) hours to social workers. For more information, please contact Amanda Heiser at 301-319-2889.