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Staff Spotlight: Allison Allen, MSW, LCSW

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

For Allison Allen, MSW, LCSW, the Movement Disorders’ Center’s social worker, a day’s work involves both outreach to help people with living with movement disorders as well meeting those same patients where they are. In our 200th “Spotlight” interview Allen talks to us about how this approach helps her work with patients to navigate the disease process, address their concerns about their future, and find resources they didn’t know were available. Allen also talks about what she’s learned personally from her patients and shares highlights from her recent visit to the World Parkinson’s Congress in Kyoto, Japan.

What are your current responsibilities within the Neurology Department? What does a typical day for you look like?
I am the clinical social worker in the Movement Disorders Center and Parkinson’s Foundation and Huntington’s Disease Society of America Centers of Excellence Coordinator. As a member of the Movement Disorders team, I spend most days at the Morreene Road Clinic, where I am available to see patients anytime as part of their regularly scheduled clinic appointment or as needed outside of that time. 

Clinical social work visits are often part of new diagnoses and new patient visits to offer support and resources for patients and families as they adjust to this new challenge, but I am also available at any time as they navigate the disease process and possibly face challenges including mental health issues, changes in their ability to work or care for themselves at home. Additionally, I facilitate support groups, organize and attend community outreach and education events, and liaise between our Center and the Parkinson’s Foundation and Huntington’s Disease Society of America.

How did you first get interested in social work? How and when did you decide to join the Neurology Department?
I first pursued a bachelor’s in social work at NCSU, and then a master’s at UNC and ultimately my license in clinical social work (LCSW) as part of my search for real-world skills to (hopefully) positively affect social issues and access to quality health care on a systems level from the ground up by working with individuals and families. My service-leadership style has been a guide to ‘meeting people where they are’ on a daily basis in addition to creating community outreach and education opportunities for patients, families, and other staff. After nearly six years in the Duke Emergency Department growing a foundation in clinical social work, moving to this role in 2016 gave me the opportunity to establish lasting relationships with patients and families.

You recently attended the World Parkinson Congress in Kyoto, Japan. What were some highlights from that conference and from the trip in general?
Participating in the World Parkinson’s Congress in Kyoto, Japan in June was absolutely a humbling experience. Highlights included collaboration with providers from around the world as we work to understand the strengths of caregiving across countries and cultures. Serving diverse patients and families in small group settings as part of such a large gathering facilitated connections and sharing between international participants and was awesome to witness.

Traveling so far from home comes with many lessons and experiences at every turn, and not just inside of the conference! I was awed by the mixture of old and new throughout the city, from a robust and efficient public transportation system (although I admit I got lost in the train station almost every day!) to the architecture of the many temples and shrines found all over town (many built in the 700s).

What do you enjoy most about you work? What is the hardest part of your job?
Caring for individuals living with illnesses that do not have cures is, of course, difficult. At the same time, maintaining hope and focusing on improving, or maintaining, quality of life is a top priority for our patients and families and a hallmark of clinical social work practice. The challenges and changes facing these disease populations are often personal and intimate, from managing fear about what is to come to actual loss of abilities to advanced care planning, so to walk with them in these journeys is an incredible honor. I would have to say that at times this is both the most challenging, but also the most rewarding, part of this work.

What’s one thing you wished more patients (or people in general) knew about Parkinson’s disease (or movement disorders in general)?
It’s certainly not all rainbows and roses, but there is beauty that can be found from having to slow down and be so intentional with your actions and in all that you do, which is often necessary in movement disorder.s For those of us moving so freely, and most often without much thought, this might be missed.

What other passions or hobbies do you have outside of the Department?
Outside of work I spend most of my time with my  family- my husband, Brandon, our two kids, Adalynn (7) and Max (3), and our dog, Fynn. We love to travel together, spend time outside exploring the greenways and trails near our home, and having friends and family over to share a meal. 


Allen travels travels through Kyoto, above, during the World Parkinson's Congress, and below, through Disney's Animal Kingdom.
A Allen