BABE #177: DEANNA KUEHN, Social Worker, OhioHealth
I first met Deanna after a year or so of dating her brother, and my intimidation over meeting his famed and philanthropic big sister was washed away almost immediately by her kind smile and huge laugh. I quickly learned that beyond the flattering stories of her dedicated career as a social worker, Deanna’s good heart and empathy extend into everything she does in and out of the office. When she’s not doing the difficult and emotionally-draining work the world needs from her, you can find her coaching a Girls on the Run practice, raising a glass of red wine with friends or adding another book to her repertoire. We’re honored to have her on the site, and ever-so-grateful for hearts that hustle like hers. -Mara
Hometown: Medina, Ohio
Current city: Columbus, Ohio
Alma mater: The Ohio State University (times two!)
Degree: B.S., Social Work, Master's, Social Work
Very first job: Panera Bread
Hustle: Social Worker, OhioHealth
Babe you admire and why?
There are so many women I admire! One of my friends had a baby in the last year, and I got her the book “She Persisted,” by Chelsea Clinton (my new go-to gift for baby showers). It highlights 13 women who helped shape America through their persistence and their beliefs in doing what's right. I love the idea of teaching children that no matter what obstacles they may face, they should continue to persist in pursuit of their dreams.
How do you spend your free time?
I love to read; I have a book club with a group of friends I’ve known since middle school. We tend to read books that are relevant to current issues in society (“Evicted,” by Matthew Desmond, “The New Jim Crow,” by Michelle Alexander, “The Shame of the Nation,” by Jonathan Kozol). They lead to some wonderful discussions about problems we're facing as a society and how we can change those problems. I also love traveling. I’m planning a trip to Italy this spring, and hoping to plan a trip to Colorado this fall.
Go-to coffee order?
Triple-shot almond milk latte.
Go-to adult beverage?
What would you eat for your very last meal?
Taco Bell. Or pizza. And maybe some really good pasta. Definitely red wine. And cheesecake. Jelly beans—by meal you meant obscene feast, right?
If you could have coffee with anyone in the world, who would it be?
Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Tell us about your hustle.
I currently work at Grant Medical Center, a hospital in downtown Columbus. I specifically work on our postpartum unit; my main focus is meeting with and completing a psychosocial assessment with moms after they deliver their babies.
What does your typical workday look like?
My goal each day is to meet with all of the moms on the unit, but the “hats” I wear when meeting with each mom and assessing their needs can vary greatly. During each assessment I’m looking to try and meet the needs of each individual mom and their family. Some moms have extensive mental health histories; some have drug addictions; some are homeless; some have experienced (or are experiencing) domestic violence; some don’t have the supplies (car seat, crib, diapers, clothes, etc.) they need for their new baby; some need help accessing the complicated welfare system. Another important “hat” I wear every day is mandated reporter; as a licensed social worker, I am legally obligated to report any concerns of abuse or neglect to Children’s Services. Working in a downtown hospital in a state that has been deeply affected by the opioid epidemic, I make referrals to Children’s Services on a regular basis. The days when I’m working to coordinate a discharge plan for an infant can be very long and stressful. If they’re filing for custody of an infant, they may not get a court order until 4:00 p.m., and then still need to identify a foster family to come and pick up the infant from the hospital. I spend a lot of time on the phone coordinating plans with them. I’ve spent up to 11 hours at work on some of those days waiting for the plans to be finalized.
What inspired you to enter the social work industry?
I’ve always enjoyed helping people. Whether through volunteering or helping friends and family, I want to make a positive impact on the people I interact with. We only get a short time on this earth, so I want to spend it trying to make it a better place.
What are your everyday patients like?
I've met with new moms from age 13-47 for the past three years. Each one has their own unique story, but they also have a lot of similarities in their experiences. I have taken the time to learn more about their lives, which has certainly changed my perspective of the world. As a college-educated, white, middle-class female, I have not had the same life experiences as many of the patients I talk to on a daily basis. When I feel myself getting frustrated or burned out with the work I’m doing, it’s usually because my vision has been clouded by my own way of navigating the world, which tends to vary greatly from how my patients are navigating in the world. I think the greatest tool any social worker (or human being for that matter) can have is empathy. [Harper Lee once said]: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
How do you practice staying composed in emotionally stressful professional situations?
Generally, the most stressful situations I encounter are when infants are going to be removed from a mother’s custody by Children’s Services. After I make a report to Children’s Services with my concerns, they have a team of people (case workers, social workers, supervisors, legal advisors) who determine the safest plan for the infant’s discharge. Their goal is always to keep a family together, but sometimes that’s not possible. In those situations, they file for emergency custody of the infant and the infant is placed with a foster family. I can remember, in vivid detail, most of these scenarios. It’s a highly emotionally charged situation, and there’s no way to predict how a mother or father are going to react to finding out they’re not going to take their infant home with them. That lack of predictability means I have to be confident in my decisions and actions; there’s no room for my emotions at that time. It’s certainly not easy to remain composed while you physically take an infant from their mother’s arms. It’s not easy be screamed at, called names or be threatened. On those days, I rely heavily on my amazing group of coworkers, friends and family members. Some days that means a good cry once I get home and can allow myself to feel the emotions I needed to put aside in order to get my job done. Some days that means a big glass of red wine and Netflix. Since I can’t always allow myself to feel the emotions at work, sometimes that means I need to take them home with me so I can process them. It’s a difficult balance of allowing yourself to feel and process those emotions while not letting it overtake my time away from work.
What’s been your biggest career milestone?
I think my biggest milestone was when I graduated with my Master’s degree, which I knew that in order to have the career I wanted, I needed to have. However, the thought of more student loans and continuing the stress of being a student seemed overwhelming. I entered into an accelerated master’s program at OSU, which meant we did the work of two years in one year. I had two eight-hour days of classes, three eight-hour days at my internship and was working 30 to 35 hours a week at Panera. I honestly have no idea how I was functioning on a daily basis, but walking across the stage to get my diploma at the end made all of the stress and chaos of the last year worth it.
How has being a woman has affected your professional experience?
I think the amazing thing about the social work field is that the majority of my colleagues are also women. And almost every boss/manager/supervisor I’ve worked with has also been female. Generally in healthcare or large corporations, you don’t always seem women in higher positions, so it’s wonderful to have women in those leadership positions around me.
What are some of the everyday struggles with your job we might not see?
The biggest struggle for me is the lack of available and accessible community resources to [offer] my patients. I have many patients who request to be linked with community mental health or substance-use resources, which can be a complicated process. Many community mental health agencies have long waiting lists for psychiatry services or do not have contacts with the Medicaid plans many of my patients have. The same issues come up with substance use resources like Suboxone or Methadone clinics; many clinics only take private-pay patients, which is not possible for most people. It can be a struggle to have people who are asking for help and not being able to give them feasible options for resources.
Who are some women in your field you look to for inspiration?
I think anyone trying to affect social change is a part of my field, so lately I’ve found a lot of inspiration from the #metoo and #timesup movements. The amount of strength and courage they've displayed to raise awareness and create social change is inspiring. My coworkers are also an inspiration to me. Some of them have been working at the hospital for 20-plus years. The amount of knowledge they have about community resources, tips for dealing with difficult patients and situations and advice about how to manage burnout are invaluable to me. They inspire me every day with the work they do.
Are you involved with any other community organizations or side projects?
I volunteer with an organization called Girls on the Run. It’s a program that works with elementary and middle school girls. Most groups are based out of schools or community recreation centers. We meet twice a week using a curriculum that integrates teaching life skills, social skills and building self-esteem through interactive lessons and running games. At the end of the season, we all run a 5k together. This is my third season coaching, and it has been an amazing experience. Getting to be a part of helping the girls meet their goals and finish a 5k is emotional and inspirational. I look forward to many more seasons as a coach. (Check out their website to see if there are any locations near you and get involved!)
What is your philosophy on work-life balance?
I think there is an ever-evolving process for me to learn what works (and what doesn’t work) in order to to feel “balanced.” My work doesn’t always end when I walk out of the hospital; the books I read, the documentaries I watch, the conversations I have with friends at happy hour are often related to different aspects of my job or laws, policies and social changes that affect the populations I work with. Having self-awareness of my stress and burnout levels and making adjustments to address when those levels get too high is how I try and keep things balanced.
What helps you wind down and manage stress?
I’ve found that having a variety of different ways to relieve stress has been key to keeping my life balanced. Some days, a long run is a great way to relieve my stress. Other times, it’s greasy food at happy hour with my coworkers or a binge session of a funny show on Netflix. When I feel myself getting overwhelmed and stressed, I usually try to make sure I schedule something fun to relieve the stress I’m feeling that week. Just knowing I have a fun dinner with friends planned at the end of the week can make a long and stressful week feel a little less overwhelming.
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
“If there is even a slight chance at getting something that will make you happy, risk it. Life’s too short, and happiness is too rare.” –AR Lucas. I have that quote on my mirror to remind me each day to take risks and embrace the opportunity to live each day to the fullest.
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