School of Social Work

No. 28 M.S.W. Program in the U.S.

Annemarie Conlon

The Virginia Commonwealth University School of Social Work is comprised of people with a variety of backgrounds, interests and paths. Annemarie Conlon, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the school,  found her way to the school through a slightly different way.

What were you doing before you joined VCU?

I was collaborating with Liz James at Lesbian Health Initiative, an educational nonprofit dedicated to eliminating barriers in healthcare and promoting health and wellness for LGBT-identified women and transgender men through access, education and advocacy programs. The primary objective of the LHI project was to increase cervical and breast cancer education, screening and follow-up care of under and uninsured lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender identified women in Houston, Texas with expanded outreach to Hispanic/Latina and African American LGBT women. In my role, I worked with Liz to design a research protocol and write a cancer mini-grant which was selected for funding.

How did you first become interested in social work ?

I was introduced to social work while working in New York University School of Social Work admissions office while completing my undergraduate degree in psychology. I had not heard of social work before and fell in love with the profession. However, it was not until many years later that I actually pursued my M.S.W. degree. Instead, I spent ten years at American Express, a multinational travel and financial services corporation, headquartered in New York City, moving from pricing analyst, to senior financial analyst, to project leader where I designed and implemented profitability models and other financial systems to meet internal consumer needs. Later, as manager of international business development, I was a member of a high performing, interprofessional, intercultural team that developed the American Express Card franchise in emerging overseas markets. These experiences honed my ability to quickly assess for and identify systems gaps and create and implement solutions to close those gaps, and to lead change. Importantly, I found that these business skills were readily transferrable to the academic and practice settings. I left American Express when I moved to Amsterdam.

I returned to the states shortly before my grandmother had a fall, was hospitalized and died. It was this incident that made me consider returning to school for an M.S.W. I used the inheritance she left me to finance my graduate education at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. I also started volunteering at Houston Hospice.

Where did you go after you graduated?

I saw a job opening at MD Anderson Cancer Center and applied. Everything moved quickly after that. I became the inpatient thoracic oncology social work counselor, a position that was considered rough on social workers. Patients most often had poor prognoses. This outcome was different from other cancers. As I began to review the literature on lung cancer, I found that the prognosis and five-year survival rate for this cancer had remained poor for decades. I soon became interested in lung cancer advocacy and research. I attended the Society for Social Work Research’s annual conference. I was seeking opportunities to learn more about and possibly participate in psycho-oncology research. While at the conference, I met a few American Cancer Society scholars who provided me with information on the Doctoral Training Grant in Oncology Social Work. I discovered that I met the criteria to apply. However, I needed to be in a social work doctoral program with at least one faculty member who had both oncology experience and scholarship. The University of Texas at Austin fit this criterion.

What brought you to VCU?

I was looking for a good fit with my research interests and the ability to work with an interprofessional team.  VCU offered that opportunity.

What is your position with the school?

I am an assistant professor. I teach the M.S.W. foundation level practice course, concentration level health care policy, and the B.S.W. oppression course. Additionally, I am also interprofessional faculty with the Virginia Geriatric Education Center  and the Interprofessional Virtual Geriatrics Case project.

Tell me about the best part of your job.

I love teaching.  I love my students. I love seeing students get excited about social work. Regardless of where they decide to go after graduation, I am confident that they will be working together with individuals, families and communities to improve psychosocial well-being.

How long have you been with the school?

I have been here since July 2012.

What’s happening right now in your work that has you really excited?

I am currently developing and testing a geriatrics, gerontology and interprofessional education module that will prepare social work students to work with older adults and their families with 17 students in my SLWK 605 course. This project is in response to the Council on Social Work Education’s call for all social work students to be ready to work with the older adult population. This module can work with a simulation and assessment project (e.g., the Interprofessional Virtual Geriatrics Case project) or can stand alone.  The GGI module is funded by a School of Social Work internal grant.

All right, last but not least tell us one of the most exciting things you have ever done.

Maybe this is not the most exciting, but it provides some insights as to why I may have chosen social work. When I was nine, I organized a Ronald McDonald Carnival against muscular dystrophy. One day, I saw a TV commercial describing the carnival and how to get information. Those interested needed to write a letter stating that they wanted to have the carnival and why.  I wrote the letter that day. A few weeks later, I received a packet in the mail that described everything I needed to do, which included fundraising, advertising, collecting donations, selecting a date and time, getting volunteers, etc.  I read every word and did everything but drive the car. I delegated that job to my mother. My siblings and a couple of friends volunteered, I got donations from local shops, I placed an ad in the community newspaper and we had our carnival.  After counting all the nickels and dimes, my mother wrote a check and sent it in.

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