By Maren Dale, News contributor
JaNeen Cross, DSW, MSW, MBA, is the 2016 senior policy fellow through the NASW HEALS (Health Care Education and Leadership Scholars) Policy Fellowship.
Cross, an assistant clinical professor of social work from Widener University in Pennsylvania, relocated in August from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., to begin her fellowship.
The one-year HEALS program allows Cross to use her knowledge and research experience to work in the nation’s capital on critical health policy issues facing the country — furthering her
research, gaining hands-on experience with federal policymaking and expanding her professional network.
She’s also partnering with other social work leaders who are engaged with policy formulation and implementation in the nation’s capital.
“After I arrived, I had an excellent monthlong intensive training and orientation through the American Political Science
Association that included policy fellows from other fields. It was great to be able to share that experience,” Cross said. “Additionally, from the beginning, Dr. Joan Zlotnik, an expert in leadership, government, research and policy, has been providing one-on-one supervision and guidance. My early months also included intensive study of policies and processes, and my fellowship has had an excellent start.”
A Perfect Fit
Much of Cross’ career has been focused on social work within health care environments, and she spent 16 years working as an inpatient clinical social worker in the Women’s Health Department at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital, where she specialized in issues related to hospital neonatal intensive care units.
Today, Cross serves as the president of the National Association of Perinatal Social Workers and is on the board of directors for the National Perinatal Association. In recent years, she has received multiple awards and recognitions for her work in this area.
When Cross first heard of HEALS, she said it appealed to her immediately and felt like it would be a perfect fit and the next logical step in her career.
“On the medical side, the HEALS program spoke to me, and I knew it would allow me to grow even further in an area where most of my professional career has been,” Cross said. “At the same time, at Widener University, I teach policy, and policy can be very theoretical. I knew, through HEALS, being able to actually be in D.C. and experience Congress would allow me to understand things in a way that I could not by just reading or hearing about them. Ultimately, I believe this experience will allow me to do more, share more and offer more.”
Working to Ensure Social Work Stays Top of Mind
When Capitol Hill holds congressional briefings, Cross and other social work leaders participate in order to educate policymakers on a variety of social work-related topics, and help ensure the social work perspective is a part of important policy discussions and decisions.
“I am participating in a number of initiatives to help ensure social work is well-represented, including briefings, summits and seminars,” she said. “In these meetings, topics of discussion can range from social work and primary care to social work guidelines within health care, to how social workers can help elevate the voice of the patient and make sure it is heard.”
Another strong focus for Cross has been questions, issues and concerns surrounding the new presidential administration.
“A significant change has occurred. One thing I am doing is assisting Dr. Zlotnik in bringing together key stakeholders in research and academia so we can talk about ways to move forward within our new administration,” Cross said. “We want to help social work educators and leaders address this change so they can offer guidance. How will this change affect our work with patients? How can we give students opportunities within this new environment? How can we best plan and prepare?”
Cross recognizes that the fellowship year will go by quickly, but knows it will have a powerful and profound impact on her life and career. But the ultimate goal, she says, is being able to use her new insights and knowledge to educate others and help foster change on a broader scale.
“Much of my career was at a micro level, and that experience was invaluable,” she says. “Now, I am excited to grow in a macro level, so I can help impact policies and develop the next generation of social workers and social work leaders.”
“Being here in D.C. as a HEALS policy fellow has been a remarkable experience,” Cross said. “But I’m even more excited thinking that when the year is over, I’ll be able to take these insights and share them with others.”
From the February 2017 NASW News.