By James A. Black
WRNMMC Office of Command Communications
The Road Not Taken
In Robert Frost’s immortal poem “The Road Not Taken,” he writes of a trail in the woods diverging into two remarkably different paths – implicitly encouraging readers to choose the road less traveled and live a life that both defies and exceeds expectations.
That’s the metaphorical road that Paul R. Jones traveled as an undergraduate student at the University of Alabama in Birmingham, poised to pursue a path in business before hearing a passionate call to action from a humanitarian aid worker who had traveled the globe.
“She lived with [Indigenous] people [in remote regions that] no one in the West knew existed,” shared Jones, the chief for Inpatient Medical Social Work at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. “It’s the first time I’d ever heard someone speak with such clarity and joy about living a life of service, and I was hooked, and there was no looking back.”
Jones, the first college graduate in his family, earned graduate degrees with the highest distinction in social work and business from the University of Louisville, bewildering his family when he chose to become a full-time humanitarian rather than working in a corporate landscape.
In 1994, while working as a resident minister in a men’s shelter in Louisville, Kentucky, Jones often experienced the same “social slights” and “rejection” from the general public that the unhoused encounter even to this day. He learned early on that poverty does not discriminate and may touch any of us if the unforeseeable becomes the unescapable.
Social Work: Fostering Hope, Joy, and A Renewed Sense of Purpose
For most of his professional life, Jones has worked for county, state, and federal agencies such as the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, honing his administrative and problem-solving skills to assist people and families who may have fallen through the “social safety net.”
Jones arrived at Walter Reed nearly a year ago, inheriting a converted hospital room space with built-in noise reduction panels – a fitting sanctuary for a newly minted podcaster seeking to share the joy of social work.
“I have the best job in the world,” explained Jones. “I’m in the relationship business, and I get to work every day with an incredible team of social workers who touch patients and families on some of the worst days of their lives.” Together, Jones and his team facilitate continuity of care and advocate on behalf of patients and families.
Jones, an empathetic listener and engaging conversationalist, seemingly was born to be of service to the military community. He started working with veterans in the early-to-mid 1990s after Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, providing therapy, counseling, and support to those returning home.
“My father was a World War II veteran, and I have an uncle I never met who is buried at sea after his B-26 was shot down over Italy in 1994,” confided Jones. “I’ve always had a love for men and women in uniform and their families.”
Walter Reed: The World’s Most Revered Military Hospital
Each day, Jones wears his Walter Reed-crested jacket, he’s reminded that this hospital is the flagship of military medicine. He credits U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Sheila M. Houghton-Antonucci, U.S. Army Col. Ceto Navarro, and hospital chief of staff U.S. Navy Capt. Kelly Elmore for being accessible, engaged, and eager to provide support. “I’ve been doing this a long time and I promise you that’s a rare thing, and beautiful when it happens.
Serving Others Requires Resilience
“I’ve had my share of burnout over the years,” shared Jones, “and I’ve learned the hard way to read the signs before I go off the cliff.” These days, Jones intentionally endeavors to leave work at work, and make sure to practice self-care away from the hospital.
Family is the center of Jones’s existence. “My wife, Renee, and I have been together for 29 years – we’re best friends and love to laugh, go on hikes, and romp around with our family dog Winnie,” reminisced Jones.
“Folks are still surprised to find out I’m an introvert at heart – I need quiet and space to recharge.” Jones loves reading and devotes some time each day creating: dabbling in the arts, acting, singing, music, designing – creating content. “It’s my medicine and I can’t breathe without it.”
Passion, Purpose and Perspective
“We need to learn how to act with more transparency, empathy, and genuine concern for the whole person,” shared Jones – whose life is a legacy to his mother Willena, a single parent who laughed out loud, and loved with her whole heart before passing away after an intense battle with pneumonia. “She’s my inspiration,” reflected Jones, “I want to learn how to give myself away the way she did.”
|Date Posted:||10.18.2023 10:46|
|Location:||BETHESDA, MD, US|
This work, Walter Reed Social Worker Restores Resilience One Patient at a Time, by James Black, identified by DVIDS, must comply with the restrictions shown on https://www.dvidshub.net/about/copyright.