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Alumni in Action: Tracy Schrider (MSW '89)

Tracy Schrider (MSW '89) on carrying compassion from Berkeley Social Welfare into health social work

Theresa (“Tracy”) Schrider first heard the line that informs her work at Alta Bates’ Intensive Care Unit from Professor Jewelle Taylor Gibbs in 1987. “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” 

“It is a reminder to me that any of us could encounter the same despair our patients experience,” says Schrider.  “It is a reminder to have empathy and compassion. And Dr. Gibbs reminded us of that my very first day at the School of Social Welfare.” 

Much of Schrider’s time at the School was filled with friendship and laughter – but she also quickly found herself nested in a group focused on mission and meaning. Today she harnesses that same sense of purpose in her everyday encounters with patients challenged by some of life’s most pressing issues – homelessness, substance abuse and suicide.

“People don’t often realize that Alta Bates Summit is in many ways like a public institution,” says Schrider.  “Two-thirds of our patients are on Medical/Medicare or are uninsured. Alta Bates is very committed to serving those from all walks of life. And so I have never been bored at my job.”

Alta Bates’ social justice mission suits Schrider, a woman who, after graduating with a MSW from the School of Social Welfare in 1989, enrolled in a one-year program in Theological Studies at the Graduate Theological Union Pacific School of Religion to study ethics and spirituality. 

“UC grads care,” says Schrider. “They have a commitment to serve the poor, and want to get into the most complex problems. And for me, the theological training took that to the next step.  It is in many ways it is the same curriculum as at the School of Social Welfare, but from a values and faith perspective.”

Schrider joined the Alta Bates team in 1991, worked with the Ethics Committee for 14 years and helped bring a Chaplaincy program – which includes Clinical Pastoral Education – to the hospital. Working as part of an interdisciplinary team with chaplains, physicians, nurses and rehab staff is a key reason Schrider finds medical social work satisfying. “We need all perspectives to look at the whole patient and help the healing process. The team keeps the work exciting and focused, and I constantly learn from others.”

She and other Berkeley Social Welfare alumni who work in healthcare facilities the Bay area together also started the Ida Cannon Awards. The awards recognize non-social workers who uphold and practice the NASW social work code of ethic. 

Schrider finds the intensity of her work extremely rewarding. “In my work people are talking about real things – life and death, and what is important to them, their parents and their children,” says Schrider. “It can be heady and technical to talk about disease, but it is really about hearts and souls, and it is important for healthcare workers to recognize that. This is good work, and for that, I feel lucky.”