New social worker Dominguez providing help and hope for HD families

Monday, July 11, 2016


Angel Dominguez

Angel Dominguez, the new UI HDSA COE social worker, wants to end each day at work knowing that she made an impact, no matter how big or small (photo by Owen Wade)

By Sean Thompson

On its face, the job title that Angel Dominguez holds, “social worker,” is not all that descriptive. In fact, it can be downright confusing.

“Social” derives from the word “society,” but Dominguez and other social workers aren’t always working within “a highly structured system of human organization.” And it doesn’t mean “social” in the way that your mom scolds you for being on your phone too much and says “you need to be more social.” How about the other word, “worker?” Not much help there, either.

Because you’re not reading an entry written by someone named Merriam or Webster, let’s stop trying to define what “social worker” means, and instead ask Dominguez, the UI HDSA Center of Excellence’s new social worker, why she wanted to be one in the first place.

After some personal experiences as a patient at a young age, Dominguez knew wanted to work in the health care field where she could help people in some way. In college, she found that becoming a social worker was the perfect way to fulfill those goals.

“I was really into working with people and I was especially interested in medical social work,” Dominguez said, “being there for families who were going through medical hardships. I’ve always had a passion for being around others and working with people and being that advocate or a resource for those in need.”

As Dominguez knows well, social work is about working closely with people to help them with things like federal, state, and community resources, help coordinate their overall care and well-being, advocate for them with local doctors and care facilities and generally help them with whatever other needs they may have related to their HD.

A 2014 graduate of the UI with a bachelor’s degree in social work, Dominguez also earned a master of social work degree from University of Southern California. The Davenport native came to the UI HDSA COE in February after providing social work services for dialysis patients in end-stage renal disease in Orange, Calif. She says working in a fast-paced environment with patients she would see multiple times a week left her well-prepared to establish tight-knit relationships with HD families.

“I want to be someone patients and families can lean on and turn to for whatever they need,” Dominguez said.

The ability to double her impact by adding direct involvement in research to her social work duties drew Dominguez to the UI HDSA COE. Here, she will help coordinate clinical and observational research visits with participants. She relishes the chance to not only help those in the HD community with what they need right now, but also give them hope through involvement in research.

“I think it’s a pretty unique opportunity,” Dominguez said. “You get to see the impact on multiple levels. Not only do you have the personal touch of social work, but you are also involved in macro-level change as well through research, which hopefully leads to systemic changes, whether it’s new policies or new treatments. “Who wouldn’t want to be involved with having that kind of impact?”

“The participants are so excited to be here and so eager to help and be a part of the research, which I find very exciting.”

Before taking over as the sole social worker at the UI HDSA COE in June, Dominguez benefited from training with Amanda Miller, the center’s former social worker who now is the program director for a forthcoming mood disorders clinic at the UI. Dominguez had a willingness to learn, but had no prior knowledge of HD, which is why she says the time spent learning under Miller was invaluable.

“She did an amazing job of preparing me and providing an introduction to not only HD but the University of Iowa and what our role is as social workers working with the health care team here, the patients, their families and the HD community,” Dominguez said.

It remains one thing to hear about providing the best social work services from someone with experience doing it, but another to actually understand what the families affected by HD are going through and what their needs are. That’s why Dominguez said her patients and research participants have also been her best educators when it comes to HD.

“When I first started, I would say that I was new and I want to know what HD means for you and your family,” Dominguez said. “I’ve found a lot of people really wanted to share their story. To hear their experiences and their family’s experiences has been the most beneficial for me.”

For Dominguez, in the end, social work does come down to being “social.” She says the best part of her job is interacting with HD family members in her dual research-and-helping role. And she is grateful for the social reciprocation that HD family members have given her.

“Thank you for being so open and honest about your experiences, both good and bad,” Dominguez says to those she’s interacted with so far. “That provides me with a better understanding of how I can be a better researcher and social worker for the HD community.”