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BAD ASS OF THE WEEK: Sonya Mogilner



Sonya was born in Russia and came to the states as a child. Still fluent in Russian and with better English than most Americans, this BAD ASS started her school career as a nurse and after changing her course is now going to grad school to become a social worker.

I’ve known this force of nature since she was 14 years old. She has always been one of the most Bad Ass women I’ve ever known. She takes shit from no one and would give you the shirt off her back if you needed it. Sonya is a compassionate, driven and incredibly intelligent young woman. This week she shares her story of struggles and hard won success pursuing a career helping others.

What really inspired you to take on such a demanding school career? Do you feel like you realized how grueling and challenging it would be or is that a bit hard to grasp until you’re “deep in it”?

I was inspired to become a social worker while I was volunteering at a local hospice. The social workers I shadowed were able to talk to families about difficult subjects like death, grief and regrets and were able to put them at ease. It really blew me away. I had already gone to nursing school and dropped out, it seemed too clinical and regulated and I wanted a career where I would be able to spend time talking with my patients. I want to be a hospice social worker because I believe that it’s when people reach the end of life they need the most support. When someone is dying, it is your last opportunity to help them make them most out of what time they have left.

I was kind of aware that grad school would be grueling and challenging, but I’m glad that it is. I want social workers to be knowledgeable and have certifications and experience before they graduate.”

I have to say that must take a lot of courage. As much as I’d like to help anyone in need, I think it takes a certain kind of strength to help people and families dealing with what can be the most tragic episode of their lives. I really commend you and everyone out there helping your community in the way that you do. I’d imagine it’s got to take a toll at some point though…Bad Ass as you are, no one is Super Woman! What keeps you going when you’ve had an especially hard day, week or semester?

I’d love to tell you that when it’s crunch time and I’m stressed that I reach for a kale smoothie and go for a long run, but I would be lying. If I have a week where I don’t know how I’m going to keep my head above water, I try to make sure that I have one night to go grab some drinks and talk shit about whatever with a friend.”

Honesty at its best, another reason you’re awesome. If I can be honest, I’ve never tried a kale smoothie I liked. IPA’s on the other hand… 😉

What has been one of your biggest struggles on this grand journey of academic and self-discovery? Was it emotional? Physical? School related? Little bit of everything?

I’d say that my biggest struggle was figuring out my path and journey. I started out as a communications major, to nursing, to gerontology (which I love) and then to social work. It was an emotional roller coaster for me to keep changing majors, every time I changed my mind it felt like a failure, so I had to get over that. My advice to anyone that is thinking about getting a degree, but isn’t sure 100% what they want to do, is go to community college or shadow people in the field you want to work in. If I had known that 8 years ago I could have saved a lot of time and quite a bit of money.”

Talk about determination and the fight against that feeling of self-defeat that comes all too easily. Way to stay on course and do the damn thing, dude. I’m sure it would have been a lot easier to just throw your hands up and walk away from it all. Your family must be very proud of you. I know your friends are.

What has been one of your most rewarding experiences while doing social work thus far?

My most rewarding experience was working as a hospice volunteer to translate for a Russian speaking family. The patient looked just like my grandma and they were from the same region of Russia as myself. I came along with the nurses, social workers, home health aids and physicians on every visit to act as an interpreter. Over the months, I really got to know them, they would call me to get help with other issues like Medicaid applications. I really felt useful; it was incredibly satisfying. When the patient started to pass, I was the first person the family called and I helped coordinate all the post mortem arrangements. As a hospice volunteer you seldom get to be there at the time of death and after, but I was given that opportunity and it was (for lack of a less cheesy term) life affirming. I knew then that death and dying were my bread and butter and that I could handle working in this field.”

Oh lordy I’m crying; in the best kind of way. I can only imagine how grateful everyone involved must have been for your help. What a sense of fulfillment you must get knowing that you’ve impacted families in such a positive way during such a difficult time. You’re amazing.

After all that and while still going through grad school after having a life affirming moment such as you did, what advice would you give to those looking to get in the trenches and fight the good fight as a social worker?

I would say it’s important to look as far in the future as possible for your chosen career path. If possible do as many required classes at a community college, to save time and money. I would also find something you feel passionate about within the scope of the field, like child welfare, substance abuse recovery, women’s health/rights, etc. This will give you the passion and inspiration to get through those weeks where you realize you have to do a couple hundred pages of reading and papers are due. The better you understand your reasons for being in the social work field, the better social worker you will be.”

Thank you for giving such an honest, inspiring and eye opening insight to the world of Hospice social workers and all social workers at large. You provide services and help that is needed by everyone. You are true heroes and contributors to your community. Sonya, I salute your efforts. I don’t know how you or anyone else in this field does it, but the community thanks you.