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UB to Expand Its Social Work Internship Program

Release Date: August 18, 2008

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The University at Buffalo School of Social Work this fall will expand a multi-year prestigious national grant program designed to transform how graduate social work students learn how to serve older adults.

The national program, called the Hartford Partnership Program in Aging Education, stresses the need to rotate students' field work or internship experience to include at least three different settings within an agency.

"The Hartford Partnership program is all about giving students greater exposure to aging-related agencies and different populations of older adults," says Deborah P. Waldrop, associate professor in UB's School of Social Work, who administers the program with the School of Social Work's Field Education Department.

"The idea here is if you were a student placed in one agency and worked only in one population of older people," she says, "you'd leave that experience believing that all older people are nursing home residents or have dementia or whatever it was that you saw."

Instead, the Hartford Partnership, which Waldrop says carries national cache and is a valuable asset when students apply for jobs, requires that each student be placed in a variety of rotations to illustrate the wide differences in need and circumstances of the elderly population.

"Then students walk away with an aging-enhanced view of the world and older adults, and a more diverse idea of just how you care for these differences in the population," says Waldrop.

The program started with six students two years ago, expanded to include nine in 2007-08 and will grow to 12 this fall. The program comes with a three-year $75,000 grant used mostly for students stipends, says Waldrop, who coordinates the program with Sharon A. Herlehy, assistant director for field education in UB's School of Social Work. The School of Social Work will try to continue the program when it expires at the end of three years by looking for independent funding, Waldrop says.

"What we're really about is developing a workforce of aging family social workers to have a sense, knowledge, experience and exposure to this stage in everyone's life," says Waldrop. "Because aging is not about them. It's about all of us. It's about every person who is growing older. And we're growing older from the day we were born. It's about how we prepare for later life."

Funded with money from the John A. Hartford Foundation and developed by the Social Work Leadership Institute at the New York Academy of Medicine, the program is part of the legacy of the two Hartford brothers who started the A&P grocery store chain. The two died without heirs, and decided they wanted to devote part of their fortune to prepare the next generation of people to work with older adults. The foundation has put more than $50 million into social work education since it began in the early 1990s.

Two students who are presently serving internships in Western New York agencies both illustrated the goals of the program. They tell a powerful story of how their field experiences have broadened their professional consciousness and at the same time touched their hearts.

"I hadn't had any experience with people with dementia or Alzheimer's before I started my field placement, and I really didn't know what to expect from this internship experience," says Janelle Baker, a Buffalo native, who was placed at the Alzheimer's Association of Western New York. "So, on my second day, when my supervisor told me I'd be spending time with a support group for men in early- to mid-stage dementia, I was unsure how I would be able to interact, or how I would approach these men. So, I went to the group with my supervisor and she introduced me, then she left the room so that the group participants and I could talk.

"Well, the group members were so friendly, witty, charming and welcoming. I realized that had my supervisor not told me that they had dementia, I really wouldn't have known. Having an open mind and a willingness to learn from clients was all that I needed. So many people have misconceptions about dementia or Alzheimer's, but there is no standard way to define people who have these diseases. And yes, there are many losses associated with such an illness, but what I've learned from the men in that support group is that, for as long as they can, they hold on to what they have not lost: their loved ones, their humor and the wisdom they've gained throughout their lives."

Sarah Nicholson, another UB social work graduate student finishing the program this summer, was placed in the Center for Hospice and Palliative Care. Nicholson says she will never be the same after doing a home visit with a patient who was a pastor and her husband, who was also a pastor.

"Without giving too many details, the interview with them moved me because you could see in their eyes how much they loved each other, but also how at peace they were with the situation," says Nicholson, a Pendleton native who, like Baker, will graduate from UB's masters social work program this month.

"The husband told his wife's story with such detail, that you saw how much of an advocate he was for her. They fought as much as they could fight, but then were determined to make her pain free and comfortable in the end."

Besides the support group for men, Baker has answered calls on the Alzheimer's Association's 24-hour hotline for people with dementia. She also participated in Care Consultation, during which she visited clients' homes with another staff member to develop care plans. Nicholson has also accompanied staff at the Hospice Inpatient Unit for short-term care and symptom management, and served on a task force to help patients living alone.

"Being able to witness so much at Hospice has made me realize that Hospice is so much more than what I thought it was," says Nicholson.

Other Western New York agencies where UB students in the Hartford Program have been placed include the Amherst Center for Senior Services, Beechwood Continuing Care, Buffalo VA Medical Center, Niagara Lutheran Home and Rehabilitation, and Greenfield Court and Manor, the Alzheimer's Association, Erie County Senior Services and Schofield Long Term Home Health Care.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.

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