Social work student is fighting on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic

TWU social work senior Marissa Valtierra
TWU social work senior Marissa Valtierra

It’s 5:45 a.m., and Texas Woman’s University social work senior Marissa Valtierra is heading into another shift as a nurses assistant at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center - Grapevine, where nearly two months ago, her unit was designated as the hospital’s official receiving and treatment space for incoming and suspected COVID-19 patients. 

The work hasn’t been glamorous. 

“There are days when I’ve been bled on, been thrown up on,” said Valtierra. “We do a lot of messy, gross work, and it’s a lot of unseen work, but we really play a vital role in ensuring the patients are taken care of and that they have a voice in the medical system, especially in response to COVID-19.” 

In addition to “typical” job duties such as checking patient vital signs, ensuring patients are comfortable, verifying that medications are administered responsibly and leading chest compressions, Valtierra said she’s found new ways to lead in the midst of chaos. The moment the hospital announced her area would become the COVID-19 unit, everything changed. Directors from across the hospital dashed in with ventilators, personal protective equipment, or PPE, and other vital supplies for the future patients. Like many medical settings, those first few days were hectic. 

“I went in and organized everything so my nurses could come in and have a proper work flow,” she recalled. “We didn’t have a say when our unit was converted, but I’m a bold, strong advocate. I made sure our nurses were taken care of.” 

Taking care of the nurses also meant providing them with community resources, like numbers for mental health lines, in addition to what the hospital was already providing. 

Advocating for children

TWU student Marissa Valtierra

Valtierra does all this while juggling her workload as a full-time student at TWU, where she is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in social work. She graduates this May and already has a job lined up. Starting May 26, she’ll work for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services as its newest investigator for the Child Protective Services division. There, she’ll join the ranks of those who serve as the first line of defense for children who may be experiencing neglect and abuse. Among her responsibilities, she’ll assess environments where children live and where there are allegations of wrongdoing, she’ll gather evidence, and, when needed, initiate the protocols for removing a child from the environment. Additionally, she’ll testify in court proceedings and accompany law enforcement and forensic teams as needed. 

“My overall goal is law school; however, my practicum was at a children’s advocacy organization in Dallas,” she said. “Working at that macro level of policy and advocacy really opened my eyes to the psychosocial impact. We really need social science workers to come into the legal system to provide the humanitarian perspective, not be biased and really look at what the family needs.” 

It’s a career path she nearly missed. 

A second chance 

Eleven years ago, at age 16, Valtierra was involved in a serious four-wheeling accident. She stayed in the hospital for two weeks. During that time she developed an interest in nursing and patient care. However, as a nursing student, Valtierra said she struggled to pass her science courses. After a few years with limited academic success in that area, Valtierra took a semester off from school to volunteer for a homeless relief effort in North Texas. 

“My whole world changed, and it just clicked that I wanted to do a career field that could help people in a humanitarian aspect,” said Valtierra, adding that she started researching possible degrees and came across the Texas Woman’s social work program. 

“I came in as a nontraditional student at age 23, and I had just dropped out of school,” she said. “I have to give the social work faculty huge kudos. They’re the most dedicated faculty I’ve ever met. My GPA sucked a couple of years ago because I failed so many classes, but they gave me a second chance and really believed in me. They didn’t define my abilities by my past. And they’re really good at helping you navigate career strengths and goals.” 

She adds that she witnessed the faculty help students in other ways. 

“They don’t let their students go without,” she continued. “They make sure we all have gas to get to class, that our bills are paid. They really stand in the gap for us.” 

While she’s still working in health care, Valtierra said her experience at Texas Woman’s has taught valuable lessons that go beyond the classroom.

“There is a whole empowerment perspective that TWU operates off of, and the empowerment theory is talked about a lot in our social work classes,” she said. “This has helped me in my ability to take care of patients at work. TWU has prepared me to look at the needs of the person and their environment and know that I have the capacity to do more than check their vitals. I’ve met a lot of committed, young students who just want to make a difference in the world. We’re at a university that gives us the space to do so, so stay true to your values and as you continue to grow, that’s going to be your true north as you navigate the complexities of life.”  


Page last updated 5:17 PM, May 8, 2020