Washington University in St. Louis, Master of Social Work
Miami University, French and International Studies
After reevaluating her career path, Elizabeth “Liz” Baiocchi counts herself lucky to be working and volunteering for causes she’s extremely passionate about. She even received the offer for her current job with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs on her birthday — not a bad way to ring in her special day!
Liz started her post-undergrad career in the D.C. area, then married her college sweetheart and moved to St. Louis so she could pursue a graduate degree in social work. “I struggled to identify what I wanted to do with my life until volunteer experiences led me to social work. Now I see it as a calling; this is the challenging, often misunderstood, yet rewarding work I was meant to do.” Liz explains.
While she leads a very purpose-filled life, Liz still makes a point to make time for herself through travel and running. Both allow her to recharge and serve up an extra dose of perspective and accomplishment, which most certainly spill over into her work life.
It’s crucial to take care of yourself, so that you’re able to help others.
How did you discover your current job?
I entered graduate school with the goal to serve those who’ve served our nation. My interests lead me to an internship at the VA. I was fortunate to be hired shortly after graduation after applying through usajobs.gov, the federal government’s jobs site.
How do you organize your day?
I used to not be a morning person, but now I feel most energetic after my morning coffee, when the office is just starting to stir to life. That’s when I try to work on creative projects, like planning activities for an outpatient support group I’m helping to form for survivors of suicide. Then I’ll meet with medical staff to discuss the needs of our veterans on the inpatient mental health unit. Most of my day will be spent face-to-face contact with those patients, providing supportive therapy and planning for safety following a suicide attempt or suicidal thinking. I co-facilitate groups of veterans experiencing substance abuse and mental illness, discussing how they can better recognize warning signs of suicide in themselves and their peers.
Outside of my day job, I’m a board member of Card Care Connection, a nonprofit that provides supportive handmade cards and gift packages to cancer patients across the country. I created the marketing materials during a graduate internship and have proudly watch it grow from a small, local group to collecting over 10,000 cards and being featured in several media outlets. I now work on fundraising efforts and enjoy the day-to-day work of collecting cards and thanking the volunteers who make our work possible.
I also volunteer with a local hospice organization, visiting terminally ill patients and their families and creating projects with them to record their life memories.
What is it about your job that makes you feel it’s the right fit for you?
I struggled to identify what I wanted to do with my life until volunteer experiences led me to social work. Now I see it as a calling; this is the challenging, often misunderstood, yet rewarding work I was meant to do.
This is Social Work Month and the theme is All People Matter. I find my job so fulfilling, because I get to help people improve their lives and lift them up by honoring their innate worth. On a day-to-day basis, I do so many different things—writing curriculum for group therapy, advocating for veterans’ needs in the community, providing supportive psychotherapy, and planning strategy for a growing nonprofit. I never get bored and I’m constantly learning, which I love.
Working for veterans is a great honor. I’m inspired by the sacrifices these brave men and women have made for their country. I feel supported by the VA’s recovery-focused model, which advocates for better understanding of mental illness through evidence-based interventions that empower veterans and focus on their strengths. This recognizes that someone’s illness is only one facet of that person and is not what defines them.
What challenges keep you awake at night?
We have a crisis in our country when more troops are dying by suicide than in combat. The military population is at a higher risk of suicide than the general public, due to issues such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, chronic pain and war injuries, and family stress related to the upheaval of military life. We need to emphasize that asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness, and provide the support needed to address battle wounds — both overt and invisible. We’ve come a long way in recognizing warning signs for an emotional crisis and staffing the medical centers with mental health professionals, but there are still many challenges ahead.
Is work/life balance ever a problem with you? If so, what is one no-fail tactic you use to create balance?
I do find myself worrying about clients or wondering if there’s more I can do in some cases, but I don’t think that’s outside the norm for this profession. Sometimes I’m tired when I come home from work, but instead of plopping on the couch, I’ll go to a spinning class or for a run. I’m usually mentally, but not physically tired, and exercise allows me to recharge. Training for and running a race gives me a sense of accomplishment, which carries over to my mood at work.
Was there ever a moment in your career where you’ve thought, “I made it!” What was it?
Getting my job offer from the VA on my birthday was the best gift I could’ve asked for! I knew going into graduate school that I wanted to work in this field, and it felt like my hard work and determination had finally paid off.
What are some of the rules you live by?
1 / A sense of humor will see you through almost anything. It’s key in developing rapport with others and perspective through a tough situation.
2 / It’s important to take a holistic perspective when analyzing a person’s strengths and challenges. Rather than seeing a patient as a diagnosis, consider what their strengths may be—the ability to advocate for their needs or their role as a member of a faith community.
3 / My favorite quote sums it up: “Action indeed is the sole medium of expression for ethics.” (Jane Addams, a pioneer of social work.) In other words, talk is easy, but actions speak louder than words. I try to live my life by this spirit and hope that my actions will help make the world a better place.
4 / Life is short. Worry less, love more.
What qualities does it take for someone to be successful in your line of work?
Patience. Change does not happen overnight with our clients. We must recognize progress, even when it seems difficult.
Flexibility. Crises come unannounced and must be attended to, even if you’re in the middle of another task.
Self-care. It’s crucial to take care of yourself so that you’re able to help others.
And a strong desire to serve others!
What one piece of advice do you wish you could tell a 21-year-old version of yourself?
You feel unsure of yourself and are impatient to start your career, but enjoy the moment. You’ll realize what brings meaning to your life and the experiences you’re having now are not a waste. When you have the opportunity to travel, do so without hesitation — and always bring your camera.
What is your most valued possession?
My passport. The world would be a better place if more people explored! Travel connects us with one another; it defies stereotypes, gives us perspective, and reminds us to treat our fellow humans better because we have more in common than we think.