Abstract

Social workers delivering services in health care settings face unique challenges and opportunities. The purpose of this study was to solicit input from social workers employed in urban hospitals about their perceptions of the roles, contribution, and professional functioning of social work in a rapidly changing health care environment. Using qualitative methods, the university and hospital-based research team conducted seven focus groups (n = 65) at urban hospitals and analyzed the data using an interpretive framework with ATLAS.ti software. Seven major themes emerged from the participants' description of their roles: bouncer, janitor, glue, broker, firefighter, juggler, and challenger. Along with descriptions of the ways social workers fulfilled those roles, participants articulated differences in status within those roles, the increasing complexity of discharge planning, and expectations to provide secondary support to other health care professionals on their teams. Implications for practice and research are discussed.

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