Kailee Jenness
Medical Social Worker, Promise Community Health Center, Sioux Center, Iowa
Kailee Jenness

Unsung hero

Before Kailee considered a career in social work, her mom saw in her all the qualities of a good social worker: empathy, patience and a servant’s heart. After taking a few introductory social work classes, Kailee connected those qualities with a passion for learning more about other people and seeking to meet their needs. An additional major in Spanish gave Kailee the communication skills necessary to work with Latino patients. Just two years into her career, Kailee received the Unsung Hero Award from the Iowa Primary Care Association, an acknowledgement of her commitment to serve her patients with excellence.

What led you to apply for your current position?
One of my social work professors sent me the job description. She knew I wanted a job where I could use Spanish, and after reading the description, I realized the job was a perfect fit! I appreciated Promise Community Health Center’s intentionality in meeting the needs of underserved populations by being open later in the day and by ensuring they have medical assistants who speak Spanish. It was clear to me that Promise was here to serve the community and to reach people who would otherwise have a lot of barriers to medical care.

Why did you decide to study social work and Spanish?
When I was in middle school, I was talking with my mom about what I wanted to be when I grew up. She told me she thought I would be a great social worker. It was not until I completed my Diverse Populations class in college that I found my true passion for social work. That class opened my eyes to learning about other people’s experiences that differ from my own. 

I didn’t know I wanted to major in Spanish until I took a class with [now retired] Professor Rick Clark. He sparked my interest in Spanish and really pushed me to want to become fluent. I also realized how important speaking Spanish could be for my social work career. If I wanted to serve people to the best of my ability, giving them the ability to process in their native language could be very powerful.

What are the strengths of Northwestern’s social work and foreign languages departments?
The social work department challenged me and gave me room to process my worldview while also opening my mind. My professors gave me the knowledge I needed to feel confident in the field. In social work, there is always so much to learn, and you will never know everything. But NWC’s social work professors implemented a strong base of knowledge that I could further build upon.

Throughout the years that I studied Spanish, my professors were there for all my questions, encouraging me to jump in and be confident in speaking Spanish—and reminding me it’s OK that I don’t know everything. In social work and in learning Spanish as a second language, Northwestern set me up for growth and equipped me with the skills I needed to succeed in my career.

How did your internship experience help prepare you for your career?
I completed my internship at SafePlace in Le Mars, Iowa, a nonprofit agency that provides advocacy and support for victims of domestic violence. This internship gave me the confidence to advocate for people and helped me build a better understanding of power dynamics. I learned a lot about working with people one-on-one and how to support patients toward their goals instead of telling them what is best for them. Because I completed these practicum hours while earning my bachelor’s degree from an accredited program, I qualified for advanced standing in a Master of Social Work program, which lessened my course load and will allow me to get my master’s degree more quickly.