NASW Foundation National Programs
NASW Social Work Pioneers®
Bess S. Dana
Bess Dana's contributions to social work in health care are based in the direct practice of social work services, and its supervision and administration in hospitals. The work for which she is renowned is in social work's role in collaboration and in team relationships with physicians, and in refining the social work connection to medicine, first noted by William Beckman's Widening Horizons, in the 1940's. To both arenas, Dana has brought the essential principles and guidelines which have served social workers in medical education and in their partnership with physicians on behalf of patients and their families. In bringing a social work focus into the medical school in the direction of the Educational Unit of the Department of Community Medicine, she has been instrumental in affecting the understanding of medical students in the social implications of illness, to populations-at-risk for disorders, and of the need for a community investment in the health care of its residents. Her educational model at Mount Sinai School of Medicine has influenced hundreds of medical students who were taught by her social work educators.
Dana received her MSSA degree from the University of Pittsburgh. She began her career as a caseworker at Montefiore Hospital in Pittsburgh. Dana moved to Montefiore in New York City as a supervisor. She then became director of Boston's Beth Israel Hospital social work services.
Dana brought a solid practice know-how to social work education at Simmons College of Social Work, and then to the development of new schools of social work in underserved areas through her work at the Council of Social work Education. Dana joined the Department of Community Medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, where she spent the last 25 years as Professor, directing its educational program for medical students.
Dana's publications in peer review journals and chapters in books, along with her presentations reflect her vanguard thinking. Her concerns for people served, long before others, dealt with humanistic and ethical values in health care. She was one of the first professionals to urge hospital-based social workers to move beyond their walls into the community to serve their patients in home care and in ambulatory programs in the community.
Bess Dana's unique contribution is in the conceptualization of collaboration. Her written work has become the standard for the field of social work. While she made a lasting contribution related to social work's connection to medicine, all fields of social work are indebted to her for her work on the conceptualization of collaboration.