Grey’s Anatomy – Negative Mention of Social Work Education

Below is a letter that NASW sent to the Executive Producer at Grey’s Anatomy when an incorrect statement was made about social work training and education:

December 12, 2007

Ms. Shonda Rhimes
Executive Producer – Grey’s Anatomy
4151 Prospect Avenue
Los Angeles CA 90027

Dear Ms. Rhimes:

Every day, millions of people all over the country look to television dramas to entertain them. Many take the information gleaned from a television program to be the truth and use that information in their personal lives. While it is not the goal of programs to educate viewers, popular shows like “Grey’s Anatomy” teach Americans a great deal.

On the program originally aired on December 6, 2007, disparaging remarks were made by an attending to a resident about social workers and their education. We at the National Association of Social Workers feel that by misrepresenting the educational requirements of social workers, you are doing a disservice to a profession integral to a hospital and their patients.

In a rushed conversation about updating a patient family, Dr. Erica Hahn said to Dr. Isobel Stevens: “I want you to think like surgeon. You’re thinking like a social worker. And if you want to be a social worker, you can save yourself a lot of effort because the training is two years not 12.”

Leading your viewers to believe that the training to become a social worker is two years is an error. The 12 years of education that it takes to be a surgeon includes bachelor’s and medical degrees, residency and fellowships. The minimum number of years it takes to become a social worker is six years, including bachelor’s and master’s degrees. There are also advanced degrees and training in social work that can take many more years.

Social workers are competent, well trained and educated professionals who work on interdisciplinary health care teams for the good of patients. We encourage you to portray them as such on your program.

Please let me know if I can be of assistance to you in developing any of your future episodes. Perhaps a storyline that includes an oncology social worker in a hospital could entertain your viewers and educate them about social work and its essential value in a hospital setting.

Sincerely,

Elizabeth J. Clark, PhD, ACSW, MPH
Executive Director

PS – Please visit www.HelpStartsHere.org to learn more about how social workers help millions of people every day. I have also included a copy of “On Any Given Day, Social Workers Help” for your reference.

5 comments

  1. Gretchen Halverson

    Thank you for publishing this letter – I, too, was fuming during this recent episode of Gray’s Anatomy and appreciate the follow-up from NASW. After reading the above comments by Gary Bachmann, however, I have to state that I wholeheartedly agree with him – I was a little surprised at the “mis-information”, as well. Having worked in a major medical center in Minneapolis, I can also confirm that many hospitals are choosing to hire BSW-level practitioners.

    I know that NASW has been aware of our inability to retain (not to mention recruit) BSW-level members – this response could’ve been an ace-in-the hole to concretely show our BSW members (i.e., those most likely to be watching Gray’s Anatomy!) how NASW advocates for its members… but I think we did fall a little short of the mark.

  2. Thanks so much for your quick response to the ‘flawed’ comments about social workers in the Grey’s Anatomy program. And to our member’s concern about the BSW ‘missing.’

    Carol Trust, MA Chapter.

  3. I appreciate your follow up. And I understand your point. But do you remotely understand how the slight that some may have felt from a brief flash of dialog on a TV drama might be nothing compared to the slight others feel to the written and published dismissive from their professional associations executive director? I would also note that increasingly, hospitals are in fact employing social workers with the BSW because of their solid preparation and capacity to respond as generalist practitioners to a range of issues on a variety of medical services.

    “Social workers must have a minimum of four years of college education and grduated from an accredited social work program. Most social workers employed in the real health care environment, unlike Seattle Grace, have at least a Masters degee. You may also be surprised to learn that many medical schools specifically recruit and hire professional social workers to serve on their faculty and to teach about such concepts as communications skill, palliative care, domestic violence, child & elder abuse, addictions, basic counseling & crisis intervention, compassion fatigue, self care, and “communiity oriented primary care.” These are just a few of the many areas where social workers contribute daily to the provision of modern, compassionate, and ethical health care. We are often employed quite simply, to teach doctors to be good doctors.” GEB

  4. Thank you for responding to this letter. Usually employers in the hospital and medical settings require social workers to hold a Master’s degree. In the context of this setting – a medical drama set in a hospital – we felt it was important to point out the requirements of social workers who may work in a hospital. And more importantly, we felt it was necessary to point out the error in the statement about social work education.

  5. I sincerely appreciate the NASW’s desire to set the record straight on this matter. I am a professional social worker who held a full time faculty appointment in a large university medical school and residency program for 18 years. It is notable, distressing, and on occasion dangerous how so many people embrace the small hopes, misinformation and fantasies that are stock and trade of television dramas. (Although I doubt that anyone is likely to die over this tidbit of silly dribble.)

    That said, I must point out my own distress to discover in this letter from the association’s executive director, that the NASW does not apparently recognize its own members who possess the lowly BSW as real social workers.

    I know of several BSW students graduating this Saturday and more in-line for next May who enlightened by this insight might readily seek more worthwhile outlets for their hard earned dollars than renewal of their NASW Memberships.

    In the spirit of unification that was declared after last Mays Wingspread Conference, I would like to point out that at least the CSWE still recognizes the BSW as the foundation social work degree. Similarly, most states also recognize the BSW for regulatory and licensure purposes as the entry level for professional social work practice. (God forbid that any of those bureaucrats pay attention to Gray’s anatomy! Personally I just like the music.) Gary Bachman MSSW

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