Grey’s Anatomy: Negative Mention of Social Work Education

Dec 12, 2007

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.

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