As a social worker doing psychotherapy with children in a medical practice in Chicago’s northern suburbs, Lisa Elliott, AM ’16, feels that SSA provided her with excellent preparation to pursue a career that was shaped by her interests.

Lisa ElliottOriginally from Edmonton, Alberta in Canada, Elliott completed her Bachelor of Arts degree in Linguistics and French Language Translation at the University of Alberta. During her undergraduate years, she worked part-time at the university’s student health center as a peer health educator. “I got pretty passionate about the topics we covered: mental health promotion, sexual and reproductive health, and college alcohol and drug use and abuse. This job was also one of the experiences that led me to start thinking more concretely about social determinants of health, health equity, and the relationship between micro and macro factors,” she explains.

After completing her degree, she managed a constituency office for a member of the Provincial Legislature for Alberta. The job involved day-to-day outreach, linkage to care, and providing help to vulnerable populations, tasks that also sent her in the direction of social work.

She also volunteered for a not-for-profit group called the Terra Association, which provides social, parenting, and emotional support to young parents. She became certified as a birth doula and continued to volunteer for the organization. Many of her doula clients were Indigenous youth.  “Through my work as a birth doula, I got really interested in reproductive justice and had my eyes opened to the issues of health inequity based on race, age, and socio-economic status.”

Her interests in health led her to graduate work and SSA. “SSA appealed to me because it is a top-tier social work program housed in a world-class university in the beautiful and vibrant city of Chicago.” In addition to her clinical practice concentration she pursued SSA's Graduate Program in Health Administration and Policy (GPHAP) and received a Certificate in Health Administration and Policy with a Concentration in Global Health.  

Elliott’s first year placement was at the Health Promotion and Wellness department at Northwestern, housed within the University Student Health Services Office. She provided brief screening and intervention for substance abuse to college students and facilitated several group interventions.

For her second year placement, she split her time between providing brief interventions at a hospital as a medical social worker and providing trauma-informed therapy services to children through Children’s Research Triangle-Trauma Treatment Program. “I am incredibly hopeful and optimistic working with kids. Also, work with kids lends itself to a family systems approach, a clinical theoretical modality that compels me,” she adds.

Lisa received a Carl A. Erikson Health Care Administration Fellowship through GPHAP and worked at Planned Parenthood of Illinois during the summer between her first and second years. At the time, Linda Diamond Shapiro AB ’77, AM ’78 (SSA), MBA ’88, was her supervisor. “Linda played to my interests and was a phenomenal mentor,” she says.

For her coursework, she enjoyed most an elective course with Associate Professor E. Summerson Carr that focused on community ethnography. “I am pretty passionate about research as a mechanism for change, and it was awesome to learn about another kind of research that engages communities,” she says. “I also loved a course taught by (GPHAP Director) Laura Botwinick on health systems transformation and quality improvement. I think about these things a lot in my day-to-day work.”

Right after graduation, she worked at Comer Children’s Hospital as a member of a research team for a randomized controlled trial study. “For families enrolled in the study, I provided emotional, communication, and informational support through daily visits and study-developed ancillary tools,” she says.

She is currently pursuing her clinical social work licensure at a private mental health practice providing psychotherapy to children, adolescents, and their families. The practice has a close working relationship with a large primary care pediatrics practice. “I find myself thinking about my GPHAP coursework on the US healthcare system quite often: working in an environment where I do my own billing and work with insurance companies,” she says. The theory she learned also proved valuable, she says.

“Having learned about theoretical approaches to integrating behavioral health care into primary care, I am glad to have had the experience of operating from within one such model through my current work.”