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Social Work: Making a Difference in the Lives of Others

Published on Mar. 17, 2022

Every member of a care team has a profound role in improving the health of others, and among those who work with children is the shared goal to help kids get back to being kids. At Valley Children’s, our pediatric medical social workers help patients and families along the way to ensure they have the skills and resources to continue to heal and grow.

In recognition of March as National Social Worker Month, we interviewed Alistair Robertson, a Valley Children’s pediatric oncology social worker, to learn more about social workers and how they make a difference in the lives of others.

First and foremost, the broad question: What does a social worker do?

Pediatric medical social workers at Valley Children’s provide extensive support and services to children and families from various assessments of psychosocial, mental health, treatment, hospitalization and a family’s capacity to adjust and cope with illness, to crisis intervention, establishing a discharge plan and helping them navigate through conflicts that may arise along the way. A social worker will pull community resources, tools and education to help a family navigate through the many entities involved with seeking care. The extent of support social workers provide permeates all boundaries and includes providing transportation, meal and lodging resources, support seeking IEP/504 plans, school/educational and work assistance, consulting with custody issues, counseling and more.

When the process of seeking healthcare seems complex, our social workers are in your corner to help!

How did you decide to become a social worker?

My mother was a nurse manager of the surgical operating room at a hospital in Los Angeles and she wanted her children to pursue a career in the medical field. She had me come and observe various surgeries to help inspire me to pursue a career in medicine. This is where and when I first learned to have great respect and appreciation for doctors, nurses and medical staff. And then, in my senior year of high school, my best friend was diagnosed with a mental illness. This had a profound impact on me that led me to pursue a career in mental health to help others with mental illness. 

I received my bachelor’s degree in social work from Tabor College in Kansas and worked in mental health for several years. I got married and completed a master’s in social work from Kansas University, and shortly after graduating, my wife and I served as missionaries for a year and a half at an children’s orphanage in Reynosa, Mexico, where we were full-time house parents to 16 children ages 5-16. This was a very demanding, yet one of the most rewarding experiences in my life. It helped me form my passion to work with children, the poor and the sick, appreciate culture and diversity and help bring some comfort to the emotional trauma some of those children experienced. We were expecting our first child and decided to return home to Kansas to raise our family, and I worked in pediatric social work with children with all diagnoses and illness, but I especially enjoyed working with the children diagnosed with cancer and their families. 

How long have you been in social work?

A total of 35 years -- five years in mental health, 10 years at a pediatric hospital in Kansas and 20 as a medical social worker in oncology here at Valley Children’s Hospital. I love my job in oncology services and in the Childhood Cancer Survivorship Program

"I am inspired by the simple, pure joy and laughter these children can have when going through their cancer treatments. They teach me so much about hope."

- Alistair Robertson, MSW

What is the best part about being a social worker?

I love the opportunity to use my God-given talents, skills and knowledge to make a difference, to help empower others to learn and problem solve, to help themselves, to learn healthy coping mechanisms, and to see the strength, courage and resilience they bestow. I also enjoy the opportunity to work alongside an amazing team of doctors, nurses, child life specialists, chaplains, dietitians, support staff, security, foundation -- really everyone at Valley Children’s. I am proud to be a social worker and am passionate about the work I do. 

What is one thing you wish everyone knew about social work?

It is a very challenging, yet very rewarding profession that provides tremendous satisfaction from doing clinically challenging work in such a demanding setting, while enjoying the camaraderie of my teammates who view me as an expert, seeking me out to deal with difficult people and difficult situations to provide support, resources and compassionate care to families. I am truly blessed to be a part of the social work profession and a part of Valley Children’s Hospital that helps me to grow professionally and personally every day. I find great purpose, meaning, fulfillment, significance, joy and hope in being a social worker.

Anything else you would like others to know?

As a social worker I am constantly invited to bear witness to some of the most intimate and powerful moments of a patient’s and family’s life -- I am always touched and amazed by their bravery, their grace, their wisdom, their joy and their resilience. I count it an honor and true privilege to be a social worker. As Dr. Rachel Remen once said: "The capacity to bless life is in everybody. We bless the life around us far more often than we realize. These blessings strengthen the life within us and offer a refuge from an indifferent world.”