A native of Sri Lanka, Gewirz came to America in 1994 and earned a bachelor's of arts degree in psychology from UCLA. She has been a social worker at UCLA Health since 2002.
Shiraz Gewirz helps patients who have suffered strokes, spinal cord injuries, brain injuries and other traumas learn how to function with their disabilities. Gerwirz also performs psychosocial evaluations and counsels patients and family members about what to expect from the rehabilitation process in order to transition home.
What interested you about social work?
I always wanted to be in a helping profession. In social work, you wear many different hats. When I graduated from UCLA, I wasn't sure if I wanted to pursue a master's degree in psychology. But after I was exposed to a research project at the Department of Veterans Affairs that involved the impact of care coordination and support in the recovery process, I realized social work was a field that I could explore.
How did you come to the Neurological Rehabilitation unit?
When I started here ten years ago, I was working for a registry (a temporary agency for social workers) that was sponsoring me for my green card. At the time, UCLA was talking about closing down this unit because they knew we were moving into the new Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center building and there was no place there for this unit. Because of that uncertainty, they didn't hire anyone into the position for seven years, which was great for me. Then they finally decided to open up a permanent position. I had just gotten my green card so the first thing I did was apply for this position in Inpatient Neurological Rehabilitation.
What is it like to work with patients who have suffered a stroke or serious brain injury?
It's a devastating time for most patients. It's a reality check for them. Before they come here, they've been in bed, recovering from the acute illness or injury they suffered. Often they're not fully aware of their limitations. My goal is to help them understand the rehabilitation process and to offer them and their family the resources and support they need to return home. It's pretty common to see patients experience depression or anxiety. They work three exhausting hours a day at physical therapy and sometimes it's hard for them to see how they're progressing. I also provide supportive therapy to the families and friends of the patient to help them cope with their feelings and adapt to the new situation, as they are often also devastated.
What do you like about your work?
Helping patients and their families go through this experience is very gratifying, especially when patients come back to visit us. Sometimes it's like doing a catwalk - they show up with a cane and walk down the hall. Everyone lights up when we see how far a former patient has come. Some of them don't remember being here so they may not remember everybody, but they do remember things like their first bath. It reminds us that the little things we take for granted are often the most important for patients.
What do you like to do for fun?
I enjoy spending time with family and friends and I love to hike as time and weather permit. One of my favorite hikes is Park Mesa. I also enjoy traveling and taking road trips.
For more information about Clinical Social Work at UCLA Health, click here.