Saint Leo University MSW Alumna Positively Impacting Veterans, Teens
Meet Elizabeth Kemfort whose Saint Leo University MSW degree has helped her thrive in a social work career helping veterans and young people.
Elizabeth Kemfort loves making a positive impact on every individual with whom she interacts. After completing the Saint Leo University MSW program a few years ago, she is thriving in a successful career in the social work field.
Known to most as “Ellie,” the 28-year-old is a native of Bradenton, FL. She and her husband, Jason, now reside in nearby Parrish. They have two dogs, Willow and Archie, who are mixed breeds.
A 2012 alumna of Manatee High School and native to the region, she says several factors inspired her to give helping professions a look as a youngster.
“I took an AP [Advanced Placement] psychology course in high school that kind of started my interest in psychology,” Kemfort says. “Since then, I knew what I wanted to do for my career. I’ve also had some personal experience in this area witnessing family members struggle with mental health concerns. I saw firsthand how important an accurate diagnosis and subsequent treatment is for such concerns, as well as for their family around them.”
Prior to going on for a graduate degree at Saint Leo, Kemfort earned her associate degree in psychology from Florida State University in 2013. She then transitioned to the University of Central Florida where she completed her bachelor’s degree in psychology in 2015.
She details her track to Saint Leo to attend graduate school for a Master of Social Work degree.
“When considering what to focus on in my master's program, I went back and forth between social work and psychology,” she explains. “While I majored in psychology in my undergrad, I ended up choosing the social work graduate program because of how much this field actually encompasses. I also liked the focus social work placed on change within communities and policies.”
She enrolled in the MSW program in 2015 and says that the online option was a key selling point for her. Looking back, it benefited her in more ways than one.
“The online format of this social work graduate program was really helpful. It actually prepared me for the virtual care and meetings I do in my current work.”
She says Dr. Courtney Wiest, director of the social work graduate program, greatly impacted her as a student.
“I enjoyed her classes and felt like she really cared about her students,” she says. “She was the first person I reached out to when I applied to my current doctoral program.”
As part of the MSW curriculum, students are required to complete an internship for course credit. In her case, she was placed in a local Veterans Affairs (VA) facility where she later landed long-term employment.
“The internship process was very valuable. I learned so much of what I know now in my practicum experience.”
For her, the Saint Leo University core value of integrity is most relevant.
“This core value was exemplified through the education I received in this program,” she says. “It also aligns with the social work profession. In a healthcare setting, we have to make sure that we are providing the best and most ethical care to our clients.”
And why would she refer others to the Saint Leo University MSW program without hesitation?
“The flexibility of the program is huge,” she says. “The high quality of the education was always there. My advice to anyone who decides to do this program is to really get as much as you can out of it. Engage with the professors and students in your courses.”
She wrapped up the Saint Leo MSW program in 2017. This summer, she began her studies toward an online Doctor of Social Work degree program with a concentration in administrative leadership through the University of Kentucky.
As she mentioned before, her first foray into the social work field was as an intern in a primary care clinic during her MSW program.
“I witnessed the complex role of a social worker in the medical field and the multiple hats that they wear,” Kemfort recalls. “I also got a lot of experience providing individual and group therapy in a clinical setting. It was the first time I could clearly see the wide variety of ways in which I could use my degree.”
She also interned at a local Centerstone facility, a nationwide nonprofit focusing on mental health and substance use disorder treatments.
Kemfort launched her full-time career as an emergency department social worker for the same VA facility where she interned.
“I got a wide range of experience varying between mental healthcare and medical social work. Part of this involved providing coverage in an ICU setting.”
She later moved into a post-9/11 program designed for military veterans who served after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. This includes many soldiers who were deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq.
“I was in that role for two years,” she says. “I was a case manager, so I did biopsychosocial assessments, helping veterans transition out of the military and into civilian life.”
This past March, she took on a new role at the VA as a suicide prevention manager.
“This is my favorite role so far. I work with vets who are at high risk for suicide, ensuring they have access to appropriate care and resources to keep them safe. I also get to participate in community outreach.”
In addition to her full-time role at the VA, Kemfort owns and operates a private counseling practice called the Center for Cognitive Wellness. She launched the small business in 2021 and says the MSW program benefited her in the startup process.
“The social work graduate program encouraged me to have that entrepreneurial mindset,” she says.
She explains the primary demographics she serves through this role.
“I provide psychotherapy for high-school age adolescents and young adults. I have had both in-person and virtual clients.”
She describes what she enjoys most about the work she does each day.
“It’s those little moments where you see progress in your clients,” she explains. “A client may have three bad days in a row, and then the fourth day is a great one. When something you discussed or a coping technique you suggested has actually made a difference in someone’s life, it is so rewarding.”
Her goal is to move into more leadership positions over time.
“I want to make a larger impact on helping people and practice social work on a macro level,” she says. “I want to be able to make changes within our society and healthcare systems.”
In addition to her professional career, she has even dedicated time outside of work to the community. She previously served on the steering committee as the social media chair of the Tampa Bay chapter of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). She is also a member of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce.
When she can find some free time, Kemfort enjoys reading, gardening, walking her dogs, taking weekend trips with her husband, and visiting wineries.
Photo credit: The photograph included in this blog article was provided by Elizabeth Kemfort and is used with permission.