Meet me in the Neighborhood: Social Work students turn the tide of Detroit’s diabetes epidemic

Dew students

According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in Michigan, with one in 10 Michiganders suffering from the disease. Complicating their diabetes management, Detroiters additionally face poverty, discrimination, reduced education, and a lack of healthcare and insurance options that accelerate and exacerbate their disease. In support of our commitment to interdisciplinary education and closure of the health gap, the Wayne State University School of Social Work has partnered with the interdisciplinary student-run Diabetes Education and Wellness (DEW) clinic to provide a hands on learning experience for students that empowers Detroiters living with type II diabetes to maximize their quality of life.

Diabetes can be diagnosed in two forms, type 1 occurs when the body is unable to properly produce the necessary amount of insulin and type 2 occurs when the body does not have enough insulin or cannot use it properly. Both types of diabetes result in a build-up of sugar in the blood which can lead to an increased risk of stroke, heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney damage, blindness, amputation, hearing loss, and even death. Although diabetes is a multi-faceted disease affecting numerous organ systems, there are ways to manage and treat it. In 2011, occupational therapy students approached Wayne State leaders with a plan to assist the underserved and underinsured Detroit population suffering from diabetes.

Utilizing an interdisciplinary approach, DEW includes students and faculty mentors from social work, pharmacy, medicine, physical therapy, occupational therapy and dietetics graduate programs. Although not intended to replace routine visits to certified professionals, the DEW clinic aims to supplement existing healthcare services with specialized care and educational resources to support diabetic management strategies and optimize daily living activities. For social work students this includes using a holistic and patient-centered approach that not only examines the individual needs of each patient themselves, but those of their family and community as well. The interdisciplinary approach of DEW provides social work students the opportunity to work with allied health professionals in building comprehensive plans that provide resources and support for all facets of a patient’s life affected by diabetes.

The DEW clinic has given me real-world experience in the clinical aspect of social work. Although my passion is macro work, I would view myself as a poor social worker not having the clinical understanding and experience working in the field. Working with DEW clinic clients has been a rewarding and valuable experience. - Julie Lowenthal, MSW/MPH Candidate, Class 2021

Led in Social Work by Assistant Dean for Student Affairs Anwar Najor-Durack, participation in the DEW clinic supports the School’s mission to develop social work practitioners who foster community engagement that benefits our urban home and works to advance to social, economic and environmental justice. “Being housed in Detroit for over 85 years provides Wayne State with the unique opportunity to build long-lasting community relationships that benefit both our students and community members,” stated Najor-Durack. “Over 80% of Wayne State graduates work and live in Michigan, so we take our responsibility in training top-notch social workers seriously. Interprofessional education experiences like DEW provide a prime opportunity to contribute to our local community support network and improve the lives of Detroiters, all while working towards the achievement of the national Grand Challenge call to close the health gap.”

Visit us online to explore our additional interprofessional educational student opportunities and the ways in which we are working to achieve the Grand Challenges of Social Work from the heart of Detroit. Connect with the DEW clinic on Facebook.  

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