Friday, June 10, 2011

Back to school...

Though I know it’s the beginning of summertime and for most of you, school is NOT on your mind, I thought I would share my news that I am heading back to school in August. What a strange transition it will be to return to school! I’ve known for a long time that I want to pursue a PhD, but it’s always been a matter of timing. Then we got pregnant with Baby #2 and we were reminded that it’s never the perfect time for anything, lol. Yet, with the right attitude and with love and support, great timing becomes so much less important. So, I applied for my PhD, deciding that I want to do it now while my kiddos are still small. I have officially been accepted and was awarded a fellowship where I will be doing some research and teaching for the graduate school. For those of you interested in my reasons for pursuing a PhD, I’m posting my Statement of Goals which I sent to the graduate school as a part of my application.

Cara Wallace, LMSW
Statement of Goals

As the daughter of two educators, I was a child with infinite questions. This thirst for knowledge and information has never left me. Since receiving my Masters degree almost five years ago, my mind continues to churn out questions of “how” and “why” and “what if”. I have discovered that for me, simply working as a social worker is not enough. I am seeking to learn more, research more, and contribute further to social service programs and to future generations of social workers. In the simplest form, these are my goals for pursuing a doctoral education.

Throughout my social work experience, working with families has been central. Across multiple positions, I’ve met with families floundering within the healthcare system. These experiences led me to recognize the need for promoting more cost effective programs to help families understand and navigate their options. Healthcare reform continues to be a topic of debate in America, with changes affecting individuals everywhere. Understanding those changes in policy and how they affect individual families is crucial to promoting more effective programs. Beyond looking specifically within the healthcare system, my experiences have also led me to form an interest in family functioning and relationships. During my first field placement as an undergraduate student, I worked with families referred by Texas Department of Family Protective Services to the Catholic Charities Family Preservation Unit. I completed program evaluation research on a Women-of-Worth group, which was designed to improve self-esteem in young mothers. In my current work as a hospice social worker, I see instances where difficulties in family functioning and unhealthy relationships can prevent families from utilizing healthy coping mechanisms. Ultimately, I hope to be able to accomplish further education in the specialized areas of social work in healthcare and within family systems, as well as have the opportunity for greater exposure to research methods. I also hope to develop my own agenda for research, writing, and publication.

I firmly believe that we can’t broaden our scope of assistance without broadening our sense of understanding. Research is the key to further understanding the systems around us. In my current work within hospice, I often wonder what factors contribute to the timing of a person joining hospice services. What causes someone to delay admission and what encourages someone else to seek services as soon as he or she is eligible? If we could look at several factors as they relate to a patient’s length of stay on hospice, we could target our education within the community to help people access the services they need much earlier. One of the challenges within my role is that I am not afforded the time or the resources to be able to pursue these projects.

As stated above, my experiences as a social worker lead me to be interested in family systems in general, as well as in direct relation to navigating within the healthcare system. I have often been confronted with the cost for services and how this affects a family’s decision making process. I have also seen where families want intervention no matter what the cost. Medical intervention and the progression of technology are wonderful things, as the quality of life for many individuals is improved and extended because of these technologies. However, within this age of newer and better intervention, many ethical issues come into question as well. What are the effects of these treatments and how do we regulate these ethical concerns?

In looking more directly at family systems, I’ve often wondered how we can do a better job providing education on healthy relationships. With continued soaring rates of divorce and a culture that encourages us to pursue instant gratification, how does someone learn about maintaining a healthy relationship? One thing that has been important within my own journey is pre-marital or pre-commitment counseling. Yet, what is it that makes this type of counseling successful? Does it make a difference for couples who have attended versus those who haven’t? How can we improve on the services offered to couples based on the findings of specific research programs? Though my interests for research may seem varied, I am ultimately committed to pursuing the opportunity to research topics that can further contribute to social service programs.

My desire to do research arises from my passion for education. I believe it comes from a place of great appreciation for the education and guidance I received in both my undergraduate and graduate programs, as well as the example set by both of my parents as educators. In my current role at Community Hospice of Texas, I have many opportunities to provide education in a variety of settings. As a recognized liaison with Texas Christian University, I have served as a field instructor for undergraduate students for the past two years. I also provide education on Setting and Maintaining Professional Boundaries each month to new Community Hospice employees across all six of our sites. The curriculum presented is information that I compiled and developed. At the request of Arlington Memorial Hospital, I have also presented this material to hospital employees. In addition, I am routinely invited to social work classes at Texas Christian University to talk about the social worker’s role in hospice/healthcare and in providing end of life care. For the past two years I have also been invited to participate in the TCU Nursing Hospice Panel, which is provided for all graduating seniors in the Nursing Department. Passionate about the value of education, I am very interested in teaching within an accredited Social Work Program. A doctoral education can further prepare me for that role, in addition to preparing me as a scholar who will be able to make a significant contribution to the field of social work within healthcare and family systems.