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Finding Inspiration in Direct Patient Care

Kelley Kirkpatrick

Authored by: Lisa Dugan

Photography by: Candace diCarlo

Student Life


Kelley Kirkpatrick was initially inspired to pursue a dual degree during her first field placement as an MSW candidate. At the time, the Brown graduate and Philadelphia-area native who enrolled in SP2 with an interest in hospital social work, was interning at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital where she worked on a general medical and oncology unit.

At Jefferson, Kirkpatrick completed psychosocial assessments, provided supportive counseling, helped with discharge planning and participated in family meetings. She also consulted with patients and their families around end of life issues and medical decision making. “When you are dealing with end of life care, a lot of ethical issues arise,” she says. “I was fortunate to have the opportunity to participate in some of the hospital’s ethics committee meetings, which were fascinating.”

That experience motivated Kirkpatrick to apply to the Bioethics program, as a complement to her MSW. She began her MBE coursework this year and says she appreciates the flexibility of being able to pursue both programs simultaneously. “The Bioethics program caters to people who already have a postgraduate degree or full time job, so you can complete the requirements at your own pace.” She has also found her SP2 field placements to be extremely beneficial. “What I have learned through direct patient contact has been invaluable. I’m learning the things that are going to guide me throughout my career.”

Her current field placement is at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia where she works with young patients in rehab. “I am inspired by the resiliency children have,” she says. “Many of these kids are dealing with medical and social challenges that would make most adults I know give up. But these kids have such incredible spirits—they don’t just survive, they thrive.”

Ultimately, she’d like to continue her work with children as a hospital social worker while also doing consultation work on biomedical ethics issues. She is particularly interested in end of life issues and pediatric advance directives. “I’d like to help give young patients more of a voice in decisions about their care.”