NASW Foundation National Programs
NASW Social Work Pioneers®
Ethel Cohen was a outstanding medical social work practitioner. She was born in Boston and received her bachelor's degree from Radcliffe College, and master of social work degree from Simmons College School of Social Work. In 1928, she became the Director of Social Services at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston, a position she held until 1949. Cohen took many leaves of absence from her position at the hospital to prepare material on heart disease in children and to consult with the Maternal and Child Health and Crippled Children Programs, of the U.S. Children Bureau. She also spent about two years as Regional Medical Social Consultant in the San Francisco Regional Office of the Children's Bureau. In 1939, Cohen was appointed as the American Association American Social Workers consultant, to teach medical students. She worked with representatives of the Association of American Medical Colleges to study methods of teaching medical social concepts to medical students. A product of this work was a special project financed by the Millbank Foundation, which included a nationwide survey team of social workers and physicians to examine both the philosophy and issues involved in teaching medical students. In 1949, she headed an American Association of Medical Social Workers subcommittee that produced an important policy statement on social services participation in community services to patients with rheumatic fever. This statement was not a departure from the medical social work belief that the individual--not the diagnosis-- determines the need for case work service; rather, it aimed to clarify what social services could contribute to the community based services for the chronically, physically ill.
In the early 1950's she became a consultant to the Veterans Administration (VA) Department of Medicine and Surgery. For the VA she prepared teaching materials for medical students and visited many medical schools affiliated with VA Hospitals. A collection of Cohen's papers are available at the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe College.