by Deona Hooper, MSW
I knew that pursuing this degree would be costly, but what I didn’t know is that it could potential cost me my life. Three years ago, I was accepted to one of the top five Schools of Social Work in the country.
I was already working as a Child Protective Services Investigator when I decided to pursue my MSW, and I thought it would help me to advance in my field. However, as a CPS investigator and a Master level student, I was forced along with others in my cohort to make a decision between finishing school and my job. Both worlds were colliding, and I was caught in the middle.
It’s crazy how a social work student with no work experience can work in Child Welfare to fulfill their 900 hour internship requirement. However, someone already working in Child Welfare doing the same job does not receive credit and is required to do an additional field placement. In what world is this fair!
I was already invested in both time and money to just walk away from school. So, I quit my job working at a Human Service Agency in order to work for free at another Human Service agency in order to fulfill my internship requirements. As a working practitioner, I knew that I could not manage my caseload, class work, and another 16 hour per week internship to be completed in another department. Initially, my agency was going to give me some concessions while in school, but all it takes is for someone to quit or go on FMLA.
Yes, I knew that I had a pre-existing health condition, but I was going to a university with one of the best health care systems in the country. It never occurred to me, not even once, that the program in which I was accepted would not offer me a healthcare plan.
The summer before my last semester, I started getting sick. Everyday, I would park in the deck of the Medical Center to walk to class at the School of Social Work while I was being relegated to free clinics for my health care. The last semester, my school made some changes to the health care plans. I have a healthcare plan…. Now, I can get the care that I desperately need. Right? Wrong!!!
The health insurance provider stated that I needed proof of continuous coverage in order to receive coverage because I had a pre-existing condition. Guess what….I didn’t have proof because I had been uninsured for a year. Ok….I thought. I am an advance standing student….I will be back to work in no time. Everything will be alright. Right? Wrong!!! It would be a year after graduation before I would gain employment and health insurance again.
Two years and one pre-existing condition later, in May 2012, I began getting the tests I needed years ago to determine whether I have cancer or not. Not having health insurance in this country is a death sentence. In the last six months, I know two African-American women who died from complications from preventable issues because they did not have health insurance. Despite my degrees and my accomplishments, I was just another unemployed, black woman with no health insurance, and I was treated as such.
Today, my insurance carrier is covering the majority of cost for my tests and surgery, and I don’t think it would have been possible without the ACA. With health insurance, I have Dr. Randall Scheri the world-renown surgical oncologist at Duke University Cancer Center performing my surgery later this week. The prognosis is good because the cells have not turned cancerous….Thank God!!! They are taking every precaution in case something is found during the surgery. However, I believe everything is fine, and I am planning for a speedy recovery.
President Obama made it possible for those without healthcare to have the ability to get health insurance and be covered. He did it despite the difficulty and the unpopularity of the bill, and I am thankful that he did. Now, my hope is that the Council for Social Work Education will reform their current internship requirements, so it is not oppressive and create further hardships on students who just want to help others. No other profession mandates a 900 hour unpaid internship with no guarantees of health insurance in order to obtain a degree. So why is social work doing it?
It’s been difficult to not be bitter and not to be angry. No one should have to choose between basic human needs in order to pursue higher education for a better life. After my surgery and I am on the road to healing, I plan to advocate on behalf of students who may find themselves in similar situations or for those who may choose not to go back to school for social work because of the barriers. Change is needed.
*Part II soon to come…
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