By Aaron Tooley, Ph.D.
About Sheila Clifford, MSW, LCSW: Ms. Clifford earned her Master of Social Work at San Jose State University. After graduation she moved to Long Beach to work as a pediatric social worker at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center. She also focused her time on the SCAN (Suspected Child Abuse and Neglect) committee, which collaborates with Child Protective Services, police officials, and hospital staff to provide education on the forensics of non-accidental trauma in order to protect children in the community.
Ms. Clifford then moved to Northern California, where she works as a Social Services Team Coordinator for Kaiser Permanente. She previously worked with Hospice by the Bay, initially as a field social worker, and later as a Manager. Through her work with Hospice by the Bay, Ms. Clifford has provided hospice support to families of adult and pediatric patients across five counties.
[OnlineMSWPrograms.com] Can you please give a brief overview of Hospice By The Bay and the types of clients you currently treat? In addition, can you briefly explain the types of social work services you provide at Kaiser Permanente?
[Sheila Clifford] While working at Hospice by the Bay I supervised a team of clinicians who provided hospice services to patients from infancy to adulthood. We served all patients regardless of their ability to pay for services. Every patient on hospice services has a terminal diagnosis and the multidisciplinary team works together to provide care to the patient and their family.
At Kaiser I run the volunteer and bereavement programs. Our volunteers are specially trained to provide care to patients and families on hospice services. Many of them visit patients regularly to provide companionship to the patient or relief care to the family or caregiver. Our bereavement department provides counseling, education, outreach and groups to all of our bereaved family members as well as any community member who may have lost a loved one.
[OnlineMSWPrograms.com] During your time at Hospice By The Bay, how many MSW students have you had the opportunity to mentor?
While at HBTB I had one student whom I directly supervised and also provided clinical supervision to four post MSW employees.
[OnlineMSWPrograms.com] What do you enjoy best about mentoring MSW students?
[Sheila Clifford] I learn so much from my students and I invite them to ask questions about anything within the organization or their experience. Students bring new life and energy to the office and their enthusiasm is contagious! It is wonderful to offer insight and experience as students face different clinical situations but I also feel that I grow as a social worker by listening to each of my student’s perspective and insight. I believe that every agency that employs social workers should have a mentoring program that allows students to gain experience and insight to better serve their communities. I was so fortunate to have incredible supervisors who were always available with advice, which shaped me to the social worker I am today.
[OnlineMSWPrograms.com] Do you have any advice for students considering MSW programs (or a career in school social work)?
[Sheila Clifford] I highly suggest working in the field of your interest. I had a student who was very interested in the criminal justice system and working in prisons. She got a job during grad school working with individuals who had been incarcerated and realized that it was not the population that she intended to work with. I worked as a secretary in an intensive care nursery during grad school and I fell in love with medical social work. Field education is also a wonderful opportunity to examine your strengths as a social worker. Having volunteer or work experience prior to or during grad school can be key to shaping your career.
[OnlineMSWPrograms.com] Field Education is a major component of MSW programs and requires a significant time commitment from students. How do you recommend the students you mentor balance field education with other responsibilities?
[Sheila Clifford] I think that field experience is possibly the most important part of a MSW program. It brings the classroom and text book to life. Be sure to take part in self care and I sternly recommend checking in with your field supervisor around any holiday breaks that your school may have as well as finals. Plan to take some time off during periods that your class demands increase.
[OnlineMSWPrograms.com] What are some of the main questions and concerns students have while completing their field education? Can you please summarize some of the advice you give to the students you mentor?
[Sheila Clifford] I strongly recommend self-care. It can be a challenge to work, go to school, and complete internships, which is a reality for so many students. It is so important to start off your career with balance in your life. So many students go into the social work field to help and assist others but we are only able to do so if we continue to take care of ourselves in order to decrease burn out. Clinical supervision and support throughout school is so important and needs to happen regularly. Be sure to interview with your placement to ensure that you will have support.
Also realize that everyone feels nervous in their first placement and if they don’t I would be concerned. We all learn from one another and humility is key at this point in your career. I also encourage students to realize that every experience will only aid their career as social workers. I have some students who come in to hospice with very clinical backgrounds and in hospice they are stretched to do some case management. Social work is a constantly evolving career and I believe that the more diverse experience will aide you in most career paths.
[OnlineMSWPrograms.com] How do you recommend the students you mentor to manage their own self-care?
[Sheila Clifford] Every person is different and when I have a student we explore how they currently utilize self care techniques in their life. Some people enjoy running while others find yoga or meditation helpful. Last year I had a few runners on my team and so we all completed a half marathon together. I check in with students regularly about their self care balance. I find that in the beginning of the school year it may be easier to find time to integrate self care, but as finals approach and your internship is most likely to be more rigorous, starting a self-care regimen from scratch may be more difficult. Plan ahead and try to take some time off if possible from your internship during finals.
Thank you Sheila Clifford for your time and insights!