About 110 years ago, Miss Helen B. Pendleton was hired as the first social worker ever at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. The only employee in this new Medical Social Work department, Miss Pendleton was given an office that was also the storage room for surgical supplies. Her role was to help patients address problems ranging from clothing to housing, child care, medications, leg braces, eyeglasses or dental work.
Her boss was the legendary Dr. William Osler, first chief of medicine at Johns Hopkins. Years ahead of his time, he recognized the importance of addressing both the emotional and physical condition of patients. He even established an innovative home visiting program in which his medical students learned about the living conditions and personal problems of their patients.(1)
He believed that these were often the cause – not simply the result – of illness.