Meet the Expert: Pat Dennis, MSW, LCSW, CCTSW, NSW-C

Mar 25 10:45am | Kristin Eggebraaten | @keggebraaten | Comments (2)

March is not only National Kidney Month, it is also National Social Work Month. To celebrate both observances, we're highlighting Pat Dennis, a social worker on Mayo Clinic in Florida’s kidney transplant team.  Transplant social workers give their all to our patients every day. They provide support for patients including financial, mental health, ethical concerns, risks and benefits of surgery and home life, just to name a few. To better understand the social worker role, we asked Pat some questions.

Why did you choose this area of expertise? How did you get into social work? Why transplant?

I was an accountant for about 15 years.  After working 80 hour weeks,  I finally realized I enjoyed helping people more than the accounting work.  I went back to school and obtained my master’s degree in social work.  I worked with Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood, FL inpatient psychiatry unit and then as a medical social worker.  After a couple of years, I went on to work in the Emergency Room in their level one trauma center.  In my 15 years there, I worked every unit in the hospital. In early 2014, my Social Work Manager came to me and asked if I wanted to be the Social Worker for the new Heart Transplant and LVAD program we were starting.  This was a massive undertaking for that initial transplant start up group.  It was really enjoyable working so closely with the team and the patients.  I loved helping the patients with financial and mental health services. I came to Mayo Clinic in mid-2018 for a social work position here.

I think transplant chose me and I’m very grateful for that.  Transplant gets into your blood.  There aren’t many fields where you so dramatically change people’s lives, and we get to do that every day!  I love seeing patients get back on their feet and take back their lives.

If you weren’t doing this job, what would you be doing?

I’m an organizer.  I like making things work better and making things easier for people.  I’d probably be in IT (I’m a bit of a computer geek) or in project management.  I would still have to be in a human services or healthcare related field.  I would still need to have some contact with patients though. I don’t want to lose that.

Tell us about your team and its impact.

My social work team for kidney is an amazing group.  We work hard to get our patients what they need to be ready and successful with transplant.  Kidney transplant has a lot of moving parts, and we coordinate with each other, the rest of our team, and with dialysis social workers around the country to best serve our patients.  Our social work team evaluates more than 2,000 patients a year, and we follow all transplanted patients for the rest of their life.

What is your best general advice for patients about to embark on the transplant process?

Have a great caregiver who you trust and let them help you! Also listen to the team, we are all here to support you.

Describe one of your favorite or most rewarding clinical experiences.

Transplant really is all about rewarding experiences.  When my first ten heart transplant patients had reached the time when they were allowed to write to their donor families, most of them were really struggling with what to say.  They all wanted to say something that would mean something to their donor’s family and truly honor the gift they had been given.  I reached out to the Donor Family Services group of our local organ procurement organization and asked if some donor families could come and speak at our support group.

We had three donor moms come and speak.  This was one of the greatest things I have ever witnessed in my professional career.  These moms were able to tell my patients that they just wanted to know that the recipient was doing well and enjoying their new life with their new organ.  There was true magic and meaning in that room that night.

What research have you been involved in?

My social work team spearheaded a quality project to start a kidney patient education/support group back before the pandemic.  We were the only organ group that did not have a support group and our social work team felt that it could be helpful for our patients.  Our entire multidisciplinary team got involved in the project, and they are still involved to this day.

Last year I presented at the Society for Transplant Social Workers on how we applied the current health literacy research to redesign our social work patient education packets.  We made our patient education more focused and easier to understand.

Prior to that, we did a post-transplant financial research study with our patients over a 7-year time frame.  We designed financial education for our patients that would help prepare and set them up for success post-transplant.  Ninety-three percent (93%) of patients surveyed reported that they felt adequately prepared for their first-year post-transplant expenses.  We continue to refine and use this education for our patients.

What do you think are some of the most influential trends or findings in transplant social work?

I am so grateful that the medication costs for transplant are now much lower than they were when I first started in transplant.  This has made transplant much more affordable and available for patients.

One of the biggest challenges I see facing transplant is the changing demographics and social norms that are making caregiver requirements more challenging.  We need new options and resources for caregivers, and I think we need to look more at technology solutions, including AI, to fill some of the gaps that we will be experiencing in the future.  This is my next research project.

In your opinion, what sets Mayo Clinic care apart from other transplant centers? What will patients find at Mayo Clinic that they may not be able to get elsewhere?

The biggest difference I have noticed, both as a staff member and as a patient at Mayo, is that I have never met anyone here at Mayo who does not want to be here and isn’t advocating for what they think is best for the patients.  It is good to come to work and not hear people saying that they don’t want to be here.  This is the culture here in transplant and throughout the Mayo system. I always feel that I can focus on my patients and feel good about them coming here and being transplanted here.

What I hear from the patients is that they feel that their transplant experience here is more coordinated, educational, that our team works together, and everyone cares about them. That’s a huge difference between us and many large centers.  Patients are never just a number here.  They are treated with respect and their individual circumstances are understood.

What is the most challenging part of your job?

We all need more time in the day. We have a lot of patients in kidney, and we are trying to be as efficient as we can and yet still provide the highest quality of care.  We need more time to do some of the things we would like to do to advance our program including going to the dialysis centers to meet with patients and staff to answer their questions and share information, creating a Mentor Program for our patients who could use that added support, and more time for research and team education.  Our team is large, and we would like more opportunities to get together and share information and teach each other.

What are your interests or passions outside of work?

I like reading and computer games.  I am active in professional organizations like the Society for Transplant Social Workers and the Nephrology Social Work Group.  I like live theatre and travelling, but I’m just really getting back to routinely doing those things in the last year.  I went to Yellowstone for 10 days last fall.  That was amazing!  I also have three nephews who constantly amaze me.


Interested in more newsfeed posts like this? Go to the Transplant blog.

Thank you for this interview, Pat Dennis! I think that all of us are happy that you became part of the Mayo Transplant Team.


Thank you for this interview, Pat Dennis! I think that all of us are happy that you became part of the Mayo Transplant Team.

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