Q&A with Field Instructor of the Year, Heather Eller-Gilman

April 25, 2023
Heather Eller-Gilman

Heather Eller-Gilman. Photo Credit: Heather Eller-Gilman

Heather is a Readjustment Counselor at the Lincoln Vet Center in Lincoln, Nebraska, and has worked with Veterans for more than a decade, in positions that advocate, engage in case management, and provide evidence-based therapies. Heather believes that providing a safe, rich learning environment for students is vital to their education because she was provided the same by her internship supervisor and that experience shaped her entire career. She also noted that students have a wealth of knowledge to share with those who have been on the job for a while, and she has grown through having the opportunity to work with interns. Those who work with Heather said she is dedicated to the learning experience and cares enough to ensure students have the skills needed when presented with real scenarios with clients, families and communities. She is always available, very engaged and full of encouragement.

1. Why is it important for you to work with social work interns?

During my field placement, I was blessed with having a kind, compassionate, fierce, and empowering field supervisor. The experience shaped my entire career. I want to be able to help students embrace their passion for the field, immerse themselves in a rich learning environment, and offer opportunities to explore many different areas of social work. Students have a wealth of knowledge to share with those of us who have been in the field for a while, and I have grown through having the opportunity to work with interns.

2. How long have you had GSSW interns?

This was my first year having a GSSW intern. I have had the opportunity to work with 5 MSW interns from the University of Nebraska at Omaha over the past 8 years.

3. Tell us a little about yourself and your job, including how long have you been in your position.

I obtained my undergrad at the University of Southern Colorado in Sociology/Criminology. During that period of time, I was able to work at an agency which provides programs and services to help support youth experiencing homelessness in their journeys toward self-sufficiency. After graduating in 2005, I began working as a caseworker in the foster care system. It was at that time that I decided to enroll in the MSW program. I graduated from Colorado State University – Fort Collins in 2008. My first social work position was at the state psychiatric hospital, followed by 4 years as a medical social worker in a local hospital. I began working for the Veterans Health Administration in 2013 on the inpatient psychiatric unit and then moved to the Post-9/11 Transition Care Management Clinic. In 2021, I transitioned over to the Vet Center, where I am currently in the role of Readjustment Counselor. The MSW degree opens the door to unlimited career paths, and I have been grateful to have been in positions to advocate, engage in case management, and provide evidence-based therapies throughout the years.

4. Tell us a little about your agency.

The Vet Center provides individual, group, and family readjustment counseling to veterans to assist them in making a successful transition from military to civilian life. Other psychosocial services include outreach, education, medical referral, homeless Veteran services, employment, VA benefit referral, and the brokering of non-VA services.

5. What does it mean to you to receive this award?

I was shocked to learn I was chosen to receive this award. The Diana R. Garland School of Social Work at Baylor University is such a well-known, highly respected program throughout the US, making this recognition so meaningful to me. However, ultimately what it means to me is that Ken truly found value, meaning, and opportunity in his internship, which is what being a field instructor is all about. GSSW prepared Ken to excel, which he did. His determination, creativity, joy, faith, and unwavering advocacy will have lasting impacts on all those whose lives he touched. I’m so grateful for having had the opportunity to walk alongside Ken during his journey into the field.

What others have to say about Heather: 

I would like to nominate my field instructor for all of the hard work, advocacy, dedication to my learning experience, and the care she took to ensure I had the skills that I needed and that I learned from Baylor applied to real scenarios with clients, families, and communities. Heather went above and beyond in her commitment to shaping me with best practices, exposure, training/education, and amazing supervision, to process questions I had. She was always available, very engaged, and encouraging with my learning, supervision, ethical and professional development, and experience. I am listing below a few of the highlights from my field experience while at the VA- Vet Center Lincoln. - Reviewed, discussed, and educated me on NASW, and VA ethical standards gaining understanding, and she was always available to process questions with me. - Had me do mock diagnosis of clients using the DSM-5-TR, review rationale with her and discuss areas of consideration and potential alternative possibilities, ensuring that I would gain confidence in using the DSM-5-TR correctly and accurately. - Had me shadow other VA social workers in various departments to have exposure to other disciplines including, Homeless Program, Residential Substance Abuse, Veteran Justice Outreach, Caregiver program, Medical Social Worker, OIF/OEF clinic, Community Living Center, Veteran Treatment Court, Residential Rehabilitation Program, Psychosocial Residential Rehabilitation Program and obviously here at the Vet Center. - Ensured I completed training and was exposed to practice in the following modalities, CPT, CBT, STAIR, COGSMART, ACT, MI, QPR, SAVE, Crisis Intervention, and also work with Severe Persistent Mental Illness Clients, Financial Social Work both in individual and group settings. - Trainings and participation in webinars for DEI (Diversity Equity & Inclusion), advancing social justice, and advocating for Veterans involved in the justice system. - I was also trained and completed with clients various assessment tools, PHQ9, PCL5, BDI & BDA, CSRE, COLUMBIA, Military History, Psychosocial, Risk Assessment, Safety Plans. - I also was trained and completed treatment planning, goal exploration, and would staff cases with her during supervision and get valuable feedback on best practices and per policy/treatment protocol. - Completed the MSW VA Student Handbook, policy review and discussed intentionality when applying competency 10 ethical integration of faith in practice according to client strengths, policy, and guidance on other faith/worldview practices to consider while working with clients and families. - Provided Gottman training to work with couples while here in placement, and was very amazing in helping me understand the clinical application of Gottman Theory and Gestalt Therapy for person in environment, and who we are as individuals, and what baggage we can bring into relationships. - Participated in a weekly team case consultation with outside Psychiatrists, - Reviewed licensure requirements for my state and conducted study sessions in preparation for my exam. I could go on and on about Heather and her experience, care, advocacy, empowerment, championing, professionalism, knowledge, and intentionality exposing me and providing me with every learning experience possible to ensure that she did everything possible to prepare me for my future work as a social worker, but given only 400 words to provide this recommendation, I pray that you will consider my nomination of my field supervisor Heather Eller- Gilman for field instructor of the year! I cannot think of anyone more deserving. I wouldn't have the confidence that I have gained without Baylor GSW, the Lord, and Heather as my guiding lights.