Interview with Heather Brungardt, LCSW on Medical Social Work

[About Heather Brungardt, LCSW]: Heather Brungardt is a clinically licensed social worker with over 25 years with experience in the healthcare field. In the beginnings of her career, she had spent time providing service in pediatrics, long term care, hospice and managed care. Currently, Heather provides administrative oversight of psychosocial services at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri. Heather services also on the board as director for the Society for Social Work Leadership in Heath Care. Heather Brungardt was compensated to participate in this interview.

[] Why did the medical social work field stand out to you compared to other fields of social work?

[Heather Brungardt, LCSW, LMSW] All of us are influenced by our personal and professional experiences. Having had parents with chronic health issues, I learned at an early age the value of health care teams in supporting patients and moving them to wellness. I volunteered at our local community hospital and was then drawn to health related internships in long term care, hospice and acute care as an undergraduate and graduate student. Each experience built on the prior one and resulted in developing a passion for contributing to improving the health of patients by addressing their social and emotional needs and supporting their caregivers. Social Workers in health care must understand medical terminology, how health care works and what it means to be a patient. This field has so many opportunities to work with patients as they interface with preventive care, acute/trauma situations, chronic disease and at the end of life and to help the other health care team members understand the impacts of their social needs on their health.

[] Do you have any advice on pivoting to a leadership role in the medical social work field?

[Heather Brungardt, LCSW, LMSW] First, I think all social work professionals are called upon to lead regardless of their formal position. For example, a clinical social worker may determine that a patient population could benefit from peer support and leads efforts to create a support group or may advocate for changes in policies to improve access to health care. To pivot to a formal leadership role requires intention and perseverance. In graduate school I learned a lot of general concepts and the ability to critically analyze issues. I also learned the value of constant learning and to push myself to be better. As a young practitioner, I volunteered to lead committees, manage contracts, write policies, conduct presentations, and any other activities that allowed me to learn from leaders and to be seen by them. I always met deadlines and treated every activity as an assignments I wanted an A on. I also took responsibility for my own learning and attended leadership courses offered by my employer or at conferences. We are our own best advocates, so I made my supervisor aware of my interest in leadership positions and asked for regular feedback on the skills I would need in order to advance. In every leadership position I have had I worked hard to be the best I could be in that role while being aware of the next skills I needed to move to the next level.

[] What is the purpose of the SSWLHC?

[Heather Brungardt, LCSW, LMSW] The Society for Social Work Leadership in Health Care is a member organization that supports social workers who are leading in their roles within health care settings either formally or informally. The Society offers education, support, and advocacy for its members as they strive every day to improve the lives of their patients as part of the health care team. Each year, the Society holds its annual conference where leaders in our field come together for fellowship and to learn from each other and from leaders in health related fields. As formal leaders, we benefit from sharing insights about health care policy and financing as well as strategies and innovations in health care social work practice as well as models for leading social work departments.

[] In what ways has health policy evolved that changes the landscape of medical social work?

[Heather Brungardt, LCSW, LMSW] This is an exciting time to be a social worker! Health care policy is transforming health care delivery with the shift from volume based care (fee for service) to value based care. Health care providers and systems are increasingly paid for managing populations of patients and improving their health outcomes. These shifts require strong health care teams that can not only address a patient’s physical needs but also their emotional and social needs. The American Hospital Association’s 2015 Environmental Scan noted, “Only 10-15% of an individual’s health status is attributable to the health care services he or she receives. The rest is driven by behavior, genetics, and social determinants including living conditions, access to food and education status.” Social Workers are critical to the success of these efforts as they improve patient’s access and engagement in health care as well ensuring supportive communities for their ongoing wellness.

[] What do you find to be the most important qualities in a leader?

[Heather Brungardt, LCSW, LMSW] Health care social work leaders today are presented with many challenges but also many opportunities. First, we must be experts in our field and be able to share our expertise regularly within our teams and with many different professionals. To do so, we must understand the “currency” of the health care setting we are in. Increasingly, the currency in health care is data, outcomes, patient safety, research and fiscal stewardship. Leaders must understand how social work contributes to each of these and to share results with various audiences. Leaders today must be lifelong learners, they must have a strong vision that guides decision making, strong strategy and project management skills, critical thinking and excellent communication skills. They must balance this with passion, empathy, reason and advocacy for their staff and their patients. Finally, leadership in health care today requires flexibility, creativity and innovation.

Thank you Heather for taking the time to speak with us! Learn more about Medical Social Work in our Introductory Guide to Medical Social Work.

Last updated: April 2020