Social work professor honored with national award

Release Date: March 26, 2015

Deborah Waldrop.

Deborah Waldrop

“My driving force is to make a difference in what we understand about the psychosocial care that people need and the psychosocial issues they experience.”
Deborah Waldrop, professor of social work
University at Buffalo

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Deborah Waldrop, a professor in the University at Buffalo School of Social Work, received a prestigious Award of Excellence in Research from the Social Work Hospice & Palliative Care Network (SWHPN) at the organization’s annual General Assembly in Philadelphia last month.

The award recognizes her 16 years of research dedicated to advancing the field of palliative care.

“To be nominated by my peers and have this kind of recognition is an incredible honor and privilege,” says Waldrop.

Waldrop’s groundbreaking research extends from her experience as a hospice social worker and having spent 20 years in hospitals before that. She knows both the challenges families faced in the past given only a difficult set of limited options and the better choices they have today created through the inception of hospice and palliative care.

“My driving force is to make a difference in what we understand about the psychosocial care that people need and the psychosocial issues they experience,” she says. “This includes how a diagnosis and disease trajectory influences a person within their specific social environment — their family, their job, their finances and the people around them. A life-limiting diagnosis doesn’t just affect the person who is ill. It moves through their whole social network.

“I believe I can make a difference through research that educates health care providers,” she says. “That’s what matters to me and for that to be recognized is an honor.”

Part of sharing the story of Waldrop’s success is to first appreciate the role stories have in her research, much of which is narrative-based. She often conducts interviews at a person’s bedside or in a caregiver’s home, gathering data that informs developments related to hospice and palliative care.

“One of the things that’s so amazing to me is how eager people are to tell their stories to a researcher for the purpose of making a difference in someone else’s life. Most especially when that person has had a bad experience but says they want it to be different for someone else.”

Yet palliative care is not just end-of-life care. Waldrop says it’s about managing symptoms within the context of the person’s entire life and what’s important to them.

It’s a patient-centered, family-focused approach to care that sees the person who is ill and the family as a unit for care.

The field addresses all the symptoms that can accompany a serious illness, not just those medically related to the diagnosis. Palliative care manages emotional pain and spiritual and existential distress. It is team-focused, comprised of physicians, social workers, nurses and chaplains, all of whom are equal members who bring care in equal weight in the work they do with people and families.

“I have a colleague who said, ‘I’d want palliative care if I threw my back out.’”

Waldrop’s most recent work focuses on decision-making and how people go through the process of Advance Care Planning. She continues working on a study of bereavement outcomes for caregivers whose loved one has died. She has been invited to serve on the group, C-Change: Collaborating to Conquer Cancer, a group comprised of the country’s leaders from government, business and research sectors that will develop a national consensus research agenda for palliative and hospice care for cancer.

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