Skip to main content
Meeting a Social Worker Before an Organ Transplant

You are listening to Health Library:

Meeting a Social Worker Before an Organ Transplant

Apr 05, 2017

For patients in need of an organ transplant, the first step is to meet with a team of doctors and specialists. One of the members of the team is a social worker who conducts an interview. This may be surprising to some patients. Organ transplant surgeon Dr. Jeffrey Campsen sits down with Melissa Morales, an organ transplant social worker. They discuss what to expect in the interview and the role it plays in the medical outcome.

Episode Transcript

Dr. Campsen: If you are being evaluated for an organ transplant, you're going to come in to the University of Utah for a full day workup, and one of the people that you'll meet is our social worker. Today, we're going to talk about that part of the organ transplant visit.

Announcer: Health tips, medical news, research and more for a happier, healthier life. From University of Utah Health Sciences, this is The Scope.

Dr. Campsen: My name is Jeff Campsen. I'm a transplant surgeon at the University of Utah and I'll be talking with Melissa Morales, one of our social workers at the University of Utah Transplant Clinic.

So we have people that come in who are in organ failure and need an organ transplant and we try to have them come in during a full day visit to meet a medical doctor, to meet our financial advisors, but also to meet you as the social worker. And I'd like to talk to you a little bit about what that visit's like and what is your role in that visit?

How to Get on an Organ Transplant List

Melissa: Anytime I've kind of explained to patients what I do, I sort of start with, "I'm here to make sure that they are a good candidate and I want them to not be at risk." I take a detailed social history and some of the things that we talk about is their mental health history. We talk about having adequate support, this is family support, emotional support, making sure that they have sufficient resources. A lot of our patients are from out of state and so they have to stay here for up to four weeks.

And overall, it's about compliance. It's about making sure that they are going to be a good candidate, they're going to follow the medical team's recommendations so they have excellent results after transplant.

Dr. Campsen: So that's what they can expect from your visit. Is there anything else that they should be prepared for when they come in?

The Organ Transplant Team Wants Patient Success

Melissa: I think it's important for them to know that the reason why we're here is because we want successful results. This isn't necessarily to rule someone out or to find out anything negative about them but it's really to see who they are and what resources they already have in place and what's available to them, how we can further help them if they need to be.

Dr. Campsen: So once you see them, you're going to give them recommendation to the Transplant Selection Committee on whether or not they should receive an organ transplant. And based on what you're saying, have you ever actually said no to somebody? And if you have, are there avenues for them to change and then proceed with their organ transplant?

Are Transplant Patients Ever Rejected?

Melissa: So I actually haven't ever said no. I would say that most of the patients are doing well. Again, they have this support, these resources in place. There are times where patients come in with unmanaged mental illness and they need additional support from either an individual therapist or a psychiatrist, and we help make those referrals to community services and get the help that they need.

Dr. Campsen: So as part of the transplant team then, how does your interview really affect the transplant process?

Why Meet with a Transplant Social Worker?

Melissa: So I sort of serve a dual role. I am there to evaluate and to assess how I think that they would do post-transplant. But I also am there to advocate, to link them to these community resources, to refer them out if they need to be. You know, we see these patients about once a year, and so there are times where I have to follow up with them more than that if there are any concerns on my end. So we get to build a connection, a relationship throughout their listing, and it's great.

Dr. Campsen: But this dual role is interesting because not only are you an advocate for the transplant program and helping the transplant program select the right people to give organs to, you're also a member of the team of the patient. And how do you navigate that dual role?

Melissa: You know, my goal, my purpose is to make sure that patients are successfully transplanted in a safe way and that they have the resources and support that they need, making sure that they're linked to exactly what they need that will help them have successful results.

Dr. Campsen: Well, I know what advice you've given me. What advice would you actually give a patient that was coming in to clinic to see you?

Importance of Mental Health in Prospective Transplant Patients

Melissa: I think something really important that I like patients to know is that their mental health really affects their physical health. If they are depressed or have anxiety, all those things are going to exacerbate especially after transplant, and I want them to know that we have these resources, we have ourselves, and we're available to help them through any sort of difficulties that they might have from an emotional, psychosocial side. You know, I really like making these connections with patients. Sometimes I do wish that I had more interaction with them than just once a year. But just seeing how successful they are, see how different their lives can be, a lot of them go back to work after several months and, you know, they talk about how grateful they are for our team and really for this process and having gone through that.

Dr. Campsen: I know that I always like to say that basically, once a patient gets listed and they get an organ, they're always a member of our team and they always have medical resources. But they also have social resources, correct?

Melissa: Right. Yeah, so we're available to them post-transplant. You know, we usually say for about a year after but we're happy to meet with patients any point whether it's been years out or, you know, within a few months.

Announcer: Want The Scope delivered straight to your inbox? Enter your email address at and click "Sign Me Up" for updates of our latest episodes. The Scope Radio is a production of University of Utah Health Sciences.