OASW Profiles of Inspirational Leaders
If Lorie Shekter-Wolfson has a motto in life, it likely is: “Don’t be afraid of change – embrace it!” Lorie is Assistant Vice-President, Waterfront Development, and Dean of Community Services and Health Sciences at George Brown College in Toronto. Previously, she worked as a clinician, administrator, educator and consultant in the health care system for many years. She was recognized by OASW as an Inspirational Leader and was interviewed during Social Work Week, March 7-13, 2011, under the theme: “Social Workers Are There For You”.
Throughout her social work career, Lorie Shekter-Wolfson has been a social worker that has been “there for you”! She has been inextricably there for patients and their families, social workers, students and the health care system. She has continually drawn upon her social work values and skills: relationship management, communications, empathy, advocacy, systems management and change management. She emphasizes the wide applicability of social work skills: “If I can change and work with families, I can change and work with any organization. The key in change management is to start where the client is at.”
In direct service in health care, with a focus on medicine, psychiatry and eating disorders, Lorie was an advocate for the patients and their families, by bringing an understanding of the patient’s context in which she/he lived and possessing a keen awareness of how families are involved in successful recovery. In 1988, when two large teaching hospitals merged, Lorie was appointed the first Director of Social Work of the two respective departments (resulting in the largest department in Canada at that time), where she not only brought to the position an appreciation of differences in practice between the two sites and their distinct cultures but she also made a point of looking at the macro perspective such as the financial priorities and the policies that impact on social work practice. She saw it as a vital responsibility to highlight the contribution of social work in the health care system, as well as to create and support practice-based research in collaboration with the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Social Work.
As Dean of Community Services and Health Sciences, Lorie Shekter-Wolfson is responsible for the largest academic division servicing over 5000 full-time students. She brings to this role, she says, “the perspective that only a social worker could bring”. Her emphasis has been on building an interprofessional patient-centred curriculum. As Assistant VP of Waterfront Development, she is co-leading the development of George Brown College’s state-of-the-art campus that will house the new Centre for Health Sciences. This facility will be designed to embrace an interprofessional learning education framework enhancing wellness and health promotion. Of her current roles, Lorie declares: “My social work background brings a perspective and view of the world that supports a more systemic and holistic approach to whatever I do.”
Lorie firmly believes that a changing health care system demands a more collaborative, team-based approach to patient care: “All health care professionals need to do a better job at collaborative practice. My wish is that collaborative patient-centred practice becomes the norm in the way that we deliver health care.” She also thinks that social workers are pivotal to the process: “The solutions to persistent problems are defined by who is at the table. Social workers bring a systems perspective of the world and are more aware of trying to ensure that the right people are at the table to achieve lasting solutions.” Recently, Lorie could bring her social work hat as well as her George Brown College hat to the table when she served on the Provincial Interprofessional Care Strategic Implementation Committee that presented its report last year. Furthermore, she has been an active member on numerous government and agency committees and boards.
Many of Lorie Shekter-Wolfson’s achievements have come as a result of never taking things at face value. She approaches everything with the same thought: How can this position/project/ initiative be made better? Never afraid of more work, she faces new challenges with enthusiasm, energy and innovative ideas: “I see things that nobody thinks are possible. I want to make things better and look beyond what is possible today.” Among her innumerable milestones, Lorie developed several ground-breaking programs for families of eating disorder patients which resulted in the publication of several articles, two books and international recognition. She developed the concept of a standardized certificate post-graduate program in marital and family therapy. She led the accreditation process for an international EAP consulting firm. Currently, Lorie is leading the design and implementation of an unprecedented educational strategy for the George Brown College Centre for Health Sciences with a focus on interprofessional patient-centred curriculum, enhanced living labs and integrated space; she was the recipient of the Colleges Ontario 2010 Exemplary Service Award. In addition, she feels very strongly about encouraging social work students’ growth and knowledge about the field and is, therefore, a mentor at the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work despite her busy schedule.
Lorie says: “Whatever I do, others have always commented on how easy it must be for me as I always seem to move forward; and if I had barriers, I always seem to figure a way to get around them. The reality is that I have had challenges along the way, as most professionals have who have had long careers. However, for me, I have always approached these challenges with a positive attitude and with the true belief that there is a role that I can play.” She emphasized the need for social workers to use their skills and attributes to identify places where they can make a difference: “Social workers can do all kinds of jobs, and they have to work with recruiters to help them see beyond the degree and title. That is perhaps the biggest challenge to social workers today since social work jobs as we used to know them are fewer, but there are all kinds of other opportunities that were not there years ago.”
It is to her mother, also a social worker, that Lorie Shekter-Wolfson credits her inspiration: “I was brought up to believe that you need to make a difference.” She recently wrote an article in memory of her mother, published in the March 2011 issue of OASW Newsmagazine: “Dorothy Shekter was a huge influence in my life and without question, the reason I went into social work.” Click here to read the full article.
According to Lorie, true leaders see beyond what is possible and enable others to carry on this passion. She notes: “I could name a thousand people who have helped and inspired me along the way and even though many of them are not here today, their influence is still felt.”
Lorie Shekter-Wolfson is an inspirational leader in the social work community – dynamic, motivating, and always forward-looking. As we did during Social Work Week 2011, take time throughout the year to acknowledge social workers who make a difference.