Heather's Journey from International Affairs to Social Work
After earning her bachelor’s degree in international affairs and German, Heather Langlois wasn’t certain what path she wanted to take in life. She spent a year with Americorps, where she “fell in love with working with people.” She worked for a mentoring organization, which deepened her commitment to helping others. Continuing on the path of service, Heather then went to graduate school, where she obtained a master’s degree and discovered her true calling: hospital social work. “I didn’t know I wanted to be a hospital social worker until I was in graduate school and I was able to spend my field work in a hospital nursery and I loved it. I just loved it.”
Today, Heather Langlois is a social worker at Children’s National and a true advocate for all the patients and families she works with. Since 2002, she has been an integral part of the Children’s National Heart Institute, where she cares for the psychosocial needs of patients and their families.
A Typical Day
Heather provides psychological support to patients and their families before, during and after hospitalization. She also facilitates transportation for clinic visits, arranges housing for out-of-town families and facilitates questions and answers as needed after treatment. During her more than 10 years at Children’s, Heather has implemented family-centered rounds, ensuring that families become a part of the care team. “Sometimes the family’s not able to be here for rounds so I make sure their voice is heard,” Heather says.
While she can count on daily rounds, Heather notes that there’s no such thing as a typical day for a social worker. “When I’m orienting new employees and interns I tell them that the best thing they can be is flexible,” says Heather. “Today, for instance, I had a couple meetings scheduled and then planned to visit some families. I got called out of the first meeting because a child was in crisis and I’ve been working closely with that family for most of the day.”
Heather makes an effort to follow-up with all of her families, whether they are down the hall or have been released years earlier. “I do a lot of follow-up calls just to check in. Families know that they can always call me if they need me.” She remembers a recent call she received from a family who had been to Children’s National more than three years ago. “The mother said ‘I don’t know if you remember me, but I need help with housing and you were the first person I thought of.’ The fact that I can be that resource for families who otherwise wouldn’t have had anyone to turn to? That’s great,” says Heather.
Power of One
Heather’s dedication to going the extra mile for not only her patients and their families but for her co-workers as well is what earned her the Power of One Award. “I met Heather during the Walk in My Shoes program and I thought she was simply exceptional. She was obviously held in the highest regard by the care team who looked to her for advice and counsel and the families clearly loved her,” says Mark L. Batshaw, M.D., Chief Academic Officer at Children’s National. “She comes in when she is off if a patient takes a turn and she goes to the funeral of patients who have passed away. Heather truly exemplifies the Power of One.”
The Power of One Award is an awards program for Children's National's employees who have demonstrated one of our vision principals: thinking differently, finding what works better, making creative connections, and never forgetting who we are caring for. Each month, Safety and Service Excellence coaches review and vote for one employee to receive the Power of One Award from the submitted monthly nominations.
Heather was extremely humble about receiving the Power of One Award. “I’m very honored by this award, but I just do my job,” says Heather. “I was hired to take care of these families, and show compassion, and give support and help strengthen them to take care of their children. So I feel so undeserving! I just do my job!” Heather takes the golden rule approach to care, putting herself in the shoes of the patients and families. “What would I want for my family and friends? Everyone who walks in here is someone’s family and someone’s friend.”
At Children’s National service excellence isn’t limited to the way we treat our patients and families. “There are times when I do things that aren’t part of my job but if a nurse says she needs towels and I’m standing there I’m going to run and get towels, or help push a bed down a hallway, because that’s part of being on a team,” says Heather. “We are so good at taking care of our patients but we also need to take care of each other.”
Social Work at Children’s National
Children’s National views social work as a vital part of the psychosocial care of our patients and their families. “Families don’t just come to us for medical care, they come to us for comprehensive care, and that includes psychosocial well-being. Every family can use a little extra care and attention,” says Heather. Heather explained that for the majority of adult hospitals, social workers perform more of a case management function versus serving the psychosocial needs of patients and their families. “Case managers are an absolutely vital part of any care team, they are able to pull information together to ensure a safe discharge but I think the model we have here is very much a dyad of social work and case management.” In a model that only has a case manager, the psychosocial needs of the family can sometimes go unmet, because focusing only on discharge planning and home care needs are just pieces of the puzzle. “I’m grateful to Children’s that they recognize the value of social work and understand that we can make kids physically better but if the psychosocial needs of the whole family are not met, we haven’t done our job. “
Heather’s department sees her as a valuable part of the team, not just an added benefit. “I’m a part of the team. My opinion is valued, my interactions with the families are valued and respected and I think people see me as an integral part of the team that makes us function so well,” says Heather. “I can’t imagine doing anything else or being anywhere else.”
Find Your Cheerleaders
Heather has grown close to many members of the Heart Institute team from varied disciplines and strongly believes that these connections strengthen her on her most trying days. “You have to find personal cheerleaders,” says Heather. “You need to have someone you can turn to on your worst day who will talk you through your problems, and you need to be that cheerleader for someone else as well.”
“The work we do can be tough and there are definitely moments of sadness that we have to help our patients and their families work through,” notes Heather. She appreciates the support she receives from the Family Services team. “For every sad situation there are many more positive ones out there and reminding yourself of that and being a member of a supportive team really helps,” says Heather.
Heather shared that families often look to her requesting miracles. “I have seen things happen here that can only be described as miraculous, I can honestly tell our patients and families that miracles happen here,” says Heather. From the care and compassion that families are shown by Children’s staff to the medical care that critically ill children receive, Heather is proud to work at Children’s. “The things that happen here at Children’s are truly amazing and I love being a part of that.”