There is no typical day for Farrah Jamal, a medical social worker at Vancouver General Hospital, which is just the way she likes it.
“A) I like to be challenged, B) I like to be crazy busy, and C) I like to go home and feel satisfied with what I accomplished in my day,” says Jamal.
She works on an Ortho Trauma/Reconstructive Orthopaedics ward and once a week in the hospital’s pre-admission clinic.
The majority of her patients in Reconstructive Orthopaedics are having elective hip or knee surgery or are on the ward for diagnosing tumours.
As a social worker, Jamal is part of an interdisciplinary team that usually includes doctors, nurses, occupational therapists, and physiotherapists. She says her role in the team is diverse and changes from day to day.
Her days usually start with a huddle, which is a morning meeting where she and her team members discuss newly admitted patients, ongoing cases and potential discharges. She heads to her office to get her head around her objectives for the day and prepares herself to go meet with patients and families. The overall objective of her role is to focus on patient quality and care, safety and treating them with dignity while helping them to find a sense of independence.
“I’m a very hand’s on person and task-oriented. I approach my day from the perspective of, ‘How can I accomplish the most and make the biggest impact with my time?’”
Jamal, who initially wanted to study law, earned a BA in Criminology and Sociology. She worked in forensic mental health from 2002 to 2005 and encountered disorders like bipolar and schizophrenia, which she says was an invaluable experience. She has also worked at the Elizabeth Fry Society in a house for people on methadone.
She went back to school and earned a Degree in Social Work at UBC and started her career on a sub-acute medical ward. She started in a casual position, which lasted two weeks. She has been full-time ever since.
Jamal’s job can include liasing with WorkSafe BC or ICBC, or consulting the Public Guardian and Trustee in cases of abuse and neglect, helping people find financial assistance, and referrals, as well as the toughest of all – having to assist with relocating a patient to a nursing home.
Sometimes she will introduce patients to an advance care planning program called “My Voice,” which makes a patient’s wishes clear in case they become non-verbal and unable to self-advocate.
One woman in her 50s had battled cancer, had a liver transplant and was not interested in heroics to keep her alive, even though her husband would have continued to fight to keep her around. She asked Jamal how she could make her wishes known. Jamal talked to her about “My Voice.”
If a patient is spiritual, Jamal may refer them to spiritual care, she provides counselling for patients and their family members, if there is a death, she can help families through it, and she provides options to patients who require care after their discharge from the hospital.
On Jamal’s ward a typical patient may go to a transitional care unit, Holy Family Rehab or they are sent home, often with some types of supports. If a patient indicates to Jamal of any unease at the thought of going home alone, she may recommend home care services like Classic LifeCare.
“If a patient has a bit of money and they can afford to pay for private care, that can be a big help, whether they want some help with housekeeping or respite or they require complex care. Sometimes a son or daughter of a patient will pay for the private home care on behalf of their parent because we commonly see caregiver burnout when a spouse or child is the primary caregiver for a loved one. Home care can be an amazing thing for people who need care but want to stay in their own home, to maintain a sense of familiarity and independence.”
Depending on the case, Jamal will either recommend the patient be assessed for community home supports or provide them with informative private brochures so they can think about their options.
“The best part of my job is when someone says thank you. I may feel I did a good job or made an impact on someone, but when I get a thank you, it validates the job I did.”
She says the other perk of her job is helping someone genuinely in need.
The hardest parts of the job are dealing with the death of a patient, lack of financial resources for those really in need, seeing a grown man cry and trying to leave work at work without bringing the emotions home.
“A lot of the people I see are dealing with some pretty big things; loss of health, loss of independence, loss of limbs. It’s a difficult time for people and I try to ensure they are treated with dignity.”
One of her first patients was a 99-year-old man who she instantly bonded with and felt a strong connection to. He passed away, which presented Jamal with her first major challenge as a social worker – dealing with death.
She recalls recently struggling with an emotional case involving a 19-year old patient who came to VGH and was diagnosed with over a dozen tumors in his body. He was working on his singing career and won the hearts of everyone on the unit. She said he felt like a big part of the ward by the time he was transferred to another hospital.
“There are some sad cases that stay with you long after the patient has moved on.”
Jamal plans to work towards a Masters in Health and Leadership with the ultimate goal to take on a management or policy development role.
“I would like to be a voice for the people who are not able to speak, to make changes to some of the policies and procedures that can get in the way of trying to help someone. I think a good leader always has patient quality care and safety at the base of all decisions.”
In the meantime, Jamal finds fulfillment doing fundraising and event planning for social work events. She enjoys time with her dog at home, travels, and welcomes the next big challenge.