Social work students lend a hand to GPs
A successful trial of James Cook University social work students assisting GP clinics could hold the key to alleviating pressure on North Queensland’s health system.
Six social work students undertook 500-hour placements in four clinics in Townsville and Magnetic Island, and visited a clinic in Karumba, as part of a 15-month Northern Queensland Primary Health Network (NQPHN) funded research project.
The project, which ran from December 2021 to June 2022, saw students conduct face-to-face appointments, Zoom calls, phone calls and home visits with patients.
JCU Head of Social Work Dr Ines Zuchowski said the results of the placement, which were detailed in a recent paper published by Social Work Education journal, found largely positive feedback from GPs at the clinics where the study took place.
“We identified that GPs were struggling to meet the social and well-being demand of healthcare, so we examined how social workers could assist,” Dr Zuchowski said.
“We then developed a curriculum for students so they were prepared before they began their placement.”
Students were able to help patients complete various applications, provide emotional support, welfare checks, build relationships and assist with organising referrals and aged care plans in a number of different scenarios.
“For example, a GP might not have the time to help a patient with an application for an aged care plan or mental health support, so the students could assist,” Dr Zuchowski said.
“The aim was to divide the placement time between direct practice with patients, patient notes and follow-up, work on a clinic project and assessment and supervision and out-of-clinic education.”
Dr Zuchowski said GPs would refer patients needing additional social support to the students, who could then assist with what services they require.
GP clinics also tasked students with projects such as collating information on aged care or community services available in Townsville and how they could be accessed.
Dr Zuchowski said countries such as Canada and the United States had undergone reforms to their healthcare system that include having social workers in GP practices, and Australia could benefit from a similar model.
“What we’re interested in doing now is placing fully qualified social workers in GP clinics and then doing an evaluation,” she said.
“We can then develop more of an evidence base to advocate for social workers to be incorporated into clinics going forward.”
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