Caring for those who need help. Boise State University graduate works on the front lines of mental health crisis

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Caring for those who need help

Emergency rooms across the country treat patients suffering from mental health problems every day.

Social work professionals like Heather Hamilton are there to help them through it.

Three-quarters of emergency physicians responding to a poll of more than 1,700 ER doctors reported seeing patients at least once a shift who required hospitalization for psychiatric treatments, according to the American College of Emergency Physicians.  

Hamilton is part of a psychiatric triage team in the emergency room at Kootenai Health, who assess up to 15 patients daily, assisting with determining if a patient is in need of psychiatric hospitalization.She then assesses the patient’s mental health needs for short and long term care.

“We get called when the emergency room physician is concerned that a patient may need psychiatric care,” Hamilton said. “Our goal is to help patients access the mental health care they need — whether it’s in the hospital or someplace else.”

Hamilton assesses patients suffering from a wide range of mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorders and psychotic episodes.

“It’s definitely an intense line of work,” she said. “But it’s something I really enjoy.”

Hamilton graduated from Boise State University in 2013 with a master’s degree in social work. She believes the program gave her “the foundational skills” needed to operate in a high pressure environment.

“The internship opportunities are where I really developed my skill set,” Hamilton said. “My second practicum I worked at Kootenai Behavioral Health. They offered me a job a week after I graduated.”

Sonja Enger, a Clinical Assistant Professor, for the BSU’s master’s program in Coeur d’Alene, said the program integrates social work theory and practice with community-based experiential learning and focuses on improving the human condition.

“Through 600 hours of practicum experience, students are able to refine skills under the supervision and guidance by masters of social work practitioners in a community human service setting,” Enger said. “Students have opportunities to assess, intervene and evaluate at multiple levels of intervention with families, individuals, groups, organizations and communities.”

Maurica Bradberry is another student already assisting people with mental health problems. Bradberry, who plans on graduating with her master’s degree next spring, is interning at the Spokane Veterans Center.

“I want to help veterans the rest of my life,” said Bradberry, who served two tours of duty in Iraq.  “I had a hard time readjusting once I returned from deployment. I made some poor choices and I really struggled.”

The Post Falls resident has spent 15 years in the Idaho Army National Guard. The sergeant earned her bachelor’s degree in social work from Lewis-Clark State College in June. Bradberry said the live classes deliver the important social work theories and then the school connects those to the real world.

“It’s the best thing I’ve ever experienced,” she said. “The program prepares you for the challenges you face every day.”

The Spokane Veterans Center helps hundreds of people living in the Inland Northwest. Bradberry’s current work with veterans involves clinical readjustment counseling — essentially helping veterans transition from military lifestyles to civilian life.

“The military has a certain culture,” she said. “Sometimes deployment is hard to readjust and we help that with counseling and teaching those important civilian skills so that our veterans can reintegrate back with a good functioning life.”

Program highlights

Boise State University programs are fully accredited by the Council on Social Work Education

Degree can be completed in one year or two years depending on class load.

Classes are live (face to face)

No out of state tuition

Internships provide real world experience

Who can apply: Those who currently hold a Bachelor of Social Work degree. Those who anticipate completing a Bachelor of Social Work degree prior to the start of classes.

To apply go to  

Deadline: Applications accepted until December 1st !

For more information or answers to questions regarding the Master’s Social Work Program, call Catherine Bailey (208) 292-2679 email or Sonja Enger (208) 769-4287  email



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