American Sociological Association

Sociology in Action: Jason Adam Wasserman

Jason Adam Wasserman, Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine, works with HOPE Shelter/Recuperative Care in Pontiac, MI, and with the Beaumont Health Institutional Ethics Committee and Ethics Consultation Service. ASA asked Wasserman about that work:

What is the missionĀ of the organizations you worked with? HOPE is a low-barrier adult shelter for individuals experiencing homelessness, and it also operates a recuperative care facility for discharged homeless patients. Beaumont Health is a nonprofit health system that serves a diverse population of patients in southeast Michigan.

Can you describe your involvement with these organizations? I consulted with HOPE on the establishment of their recuperative care facility for discharged homeless patients, bringing expertise from previous research on homelessness and health. I also conducted an outcomes assessment after the recuperative facility had been operational for one year. I later joined their board of directors.

For the ethics consultation service at Beaumont I comment on ethics-related hospital policy, contribute to case discussions and educational endeavors related to ethics at the health system, and I serve as a clinical case analyst, commenting on consult requests for specific patient cases in which there are challenging ethical and/or psychosocial issues.

What sociological knowledge and/or skills do you use? For my work with homeless service organizations, I have used both research and methodological skills, but I also have frequently been informed by critical findings from my own research about the failings of homeless service institutions, which often employ medicalized models of care. We have endeavored to avoid the problems associated with such an approach and provide individualized services that are nonetheless conscientious of the systemic nature of homelessness.

For the ethics consultation service at Beaumont, along with providing normative ethics analysis, I frequently raise considerations of social psychology that manifest in clinical ethics dilemmas, both those that originate from the patient or family, or those that originate from the health care team. I believe strongly that sociology has been under-involved in various areas involving practical ethics, including medicine. We have a lot to offer in those contexts.

How did you connect with these organizations? I connected with HOPE via my work with Oakland County Homeless Healthcare Collaboration, and I connected with Beaumont Ethics Consultation Service through the medical school where I hold tenured faculty appointments in Biomedical Sciences with a secondary appointment in Pediatrics.

Duration of the projects? Each has been ongoing for approximately four years.

Is there anything else you would like to share about this work? I am a sociologist who, at this point, is mainly working outside of sociology proper. I still publish in sociological outlets and still present at sociology meetings, but day-to-day I am a faculty member at a medical school, work with a health system, and also consult with various non-profit social service agencies. I think if I was employed in a traditional sociology department, much of this work would be devalued. I enjoy the freedom of being able to use sociology in my work (and I use it heavily) without the numerous disciplinary constraints that sociologists so often place on each other. It has been especially rewarding to use sociological knowledge in ways that directly and tangibly affect real people, including both the guests of our shelter and the patients for whom I consult. I find the common belief that working in practical contexts entails less theoretical sophistication to be wholly false; I have not only enjoyed being able to bring rich sociological theory to real-world situations, but my own theoretical perspectives have been richly informed by those experiences.