In recent years, evidence has suggested that an inter-professional [IP] approach to primary care improves health outcomes.1 Medical social workers have been integrated into primary care settings to address complex medical and psychosocial needs among patients.2 Social workers facilitate case management, provide counseling and psychotherapy, and help patients navigate the healthcare system to obtain needed services.2 Incorporating social workers into an IP team in teaching settings can be challenging.3 A major barrier to integrating social workers into primary care is an incomplete understanding of the social worker’s role among medical providers, leading to underutilization of social work expertise.4 The extent to which the social worker is integrated into primary care settings impacts the social worker’s ability to provide quality care to patients.4 There is a need for clarity of the roles and capabilities of a social worker in an academic IP team.5

Goals and Objectives

We sought to understand views about the role of the social worker within the residency practice at the Northwell Health Division of General Internal Medicine. Personnel changes afforded us an opportunity to conduct a needs assessment with providers to re-think the role of social work as we reorganized our interprofessional team. Interviews and focus groups of medical residents and faculty members assessed (a) understanding of social workers’ professional roles in the primary care setting and (b) expectations for partnership, collaboration, and assistance in addressing the social determinants of health.


  1. Steketee G, Ross AM, Wachman MK. Health outcomes and costs of social work services: A systematic review. Am J Public Health. 107(S3), S256–S266.
  2. de Saxe Zerden L, Lombardi BM, Fraser MW, et al. Social work: Integral to interprofessional education and integrated practice. J Interprofessional Educ and Pract. 10, 67–75.
  3. Fraher EP, Richman EL, Zerden LDS, et al. Social work student and practitioner roles in integrated care settings. Am J Preventive Med. 54(6), S281–S289.
  4. Ashcroft R, McMillan C, Ambrose-Miller W, et al. The emerging role of social work in primary health care: A survey of social workers in Ontario family health teams. Health Soc Work. 2018 May 1;43(2):109-117. doi: 10.1093/hsw/hly003.
  5. Ambrose-Miller W, Ashcroft R. Challenges faced by social workers as members of interprofessional collaborative health care teams. Health Soc Work. 2016;41(2):101-109. doi:10.1093/hsw/hlw006.



Clinical Practice, Health Equity, Leadership, Administration, & Career Planning, SGIM, Social Determinants of Health

Author Descriptions

Dr. Shafer ( is fellow, Department of Medicine, Zucker School of Medicine. Ms. Ram ( is a medical student, Zucker School of Medicine. Dr. Block ( is associate professor of medicine, Zucker School of Medicine. Ms. Campbell ( is director, Division of General Internal Medicine, Northwell Health. Dr. Coletti ( is associate professor of psychiatry and medicine, Zucker School of Medicine.