Rachel Downing was born in Oklahoma in 1944. She also lived in Kansas throughout her youth. At the age of 13 she moved to Montebello, California, where she attended high school. She graduated, got married, and had her son. Later she worked for a telephone company for years. After attending a retirement party for a co-worker, she realized that she did not want to spend her career with the telephone company and decided to pursue her Bachelor of Social Work at Long Beach State University. There, she met a professor who encouraged her to get her Master of Social Work. Rachel was not sure that she could pay for graduate school, but she earned a scholarship and was accepted to all of the schools she applied to. She chose SDSU because it was close to where she was currently living. Rachel enrolled in the two-year MSW program and studied both micro and macro social work. She decided that she wanted to focus on clinical social work.
Upon graduating with her MSW in 1973, Rachel was hired as the director of one of the first adult day care centers in the United States. She was grateful for the connection she maintained with her professor from Long Beach State who guided her and became her mentor. There was a mental health department down the hall from the adult day care center and one clinician supervised Rachel to help her earn the clinical hours necessary for an LCSW, which she earned three years after graduation.
Years after she was hired as the director, Rachel asked why she was chosen. She was told that of all the candidates, she was the only one who analyzed their grant proposal and told them that it would be necessary to radically alter the proposal in order to successfully implement the program. Rachel credits her education at SDSU for showing her to think critically and to have the courage to believe in her convictions.
A few years later Rachel was taking classes at USC where she met someone who encouraged her to apply for a research position at the school. She was hired as assistant director to organize, design, and implement research focusing on case management. After this job Rachel started her own business as an independent consultant and had a private practice as a therapist. She moved to the East Coast and worked at Johns Hopkins Hospital on their geriatric assessment team. She is also a coauthor of a book on Adult Day Care for Alzheimer’s.
One of her greatest professional challenges arose while she was employed at a medical hospital. The hospital had lost its accreditation and Rachel was hired to revamp the social work department. She was able to help get it back up and running. However, in the ER one day, she saw a child with bruising and malnutrition who later died. Rachel told the staff that they needed to report this as possible child abuse, but the doctors did not want to file a report. Rachel insisted that it was necessary by law and insisted a report be filed. After receiving her next paycheck, she was told not to return to work. Rachel never had any doubt that she did the right thing, and emphasizes the importance of honoring the law and the ethical responsibility that she has as a social worker.
In 2008, Rachel suffered a brain injury after a fall while working on the East Coast. She had limited ability to talk and moved back to California to be closer to her family. Two years later, she had recovered but then suffered a stroke. Rachel fought for her recovery. She persevered and focused on her family and the positive support in her life.
It was difficult to return to work after several years without employment so she decided to retire. Rachel has created a meaningful life for herself in retirement. She is currently training her dog to earn a license as a therapy dog, she started a gratitude group in her retirement community, and she enjoys researching and giving talks about U.S.history once a month.
Rachel says that her career was the best thing in the world, and she enjoyed working in different settings and learning from various professionals. She advises future social workers to be open to opportunities that may arise. She would have never imagined her diverse career path. She says that with an open attitude, some creativity and imagination, anyone can have the chance to have a full and enjoyable career.
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Written by: Kelly Reilly