Oncology Social Workers: The Unsung Heroes of the Cancer Journey

Doctors and nurses are heroes for the care they provide, and researchers are heroes for the breakthrough treatments and medications they develop. Let us not overlook the incredible contributions of oncology social workers in the journey of a patient with cancer.
Web Exclusives – March 15, 2022

World Social Work Day is being celebrated around the world on March 15 with the theme, “Co-building a New Eco-Social World: Leaving No One Behind.” The goals are to promote engagement between social workers and the communities they serve, and to “create new global values, policies and practices that develop trust, security, and confidence for all people and the sustainability of the planet.

Social workers provide counseling, advocacy, and emotional support to help individuals and families find a way forward in the face of life’s challenges. In the constantly evolving world of cancer care, oncology social workers play a critical role in empowering patients with cancer and families to navigate the complex cancer experience with confidence.

What Does an Oncology Social Worker Do?

An oncology social worker is a key member of a multidisciplinary care team, a collaborative group of specialists that share their knowledge in the diagnosis and personalized treatment of cancer.

Oncology social workers help patients with cancer from multiple perspectives, including clinical, practical, and emotional, using their knowledge, skills, and compassion to support patients’ needs, reduce stress, and inform their decision-making process. They serve as a sounding board when patients with cancer share their fears, concerns, and frustrations, as well as their joys and milestones.

Clinical Confusion

Oncology social workers have the expertise and training to explain a diagnosis to a patient with cancer. They can prepare the patient for medication side effects, and explain the different types of tests that patients may need. Oncology social workers are increasingly getting involved with research and can apply the insights they learn to improve the patient’s quality of life.

Practical Matters

Beyond the cancer diagnosis itself, coordinating different tasks and services can cause significant stress for patients who try to manage these tasks on their own. Oncology social workers assume much of that burden, so that patients can focus on treatment and healing.

Oncology social workers can help patients with cancer with everything from getting to and from appointments, to dealing with insurance companies, to connecting with social services that provide financial or legal support.

Emotional Wave

Oncology social workers help patients and families deal with the reality of being diagnosed with cancer and adjusting to dealing with cancer. Having cancer is usually fraught with stress, fear, grief, anxiety, uncertainty, guilt, and depression. In addition to their illness, patients worry about the impact on their family and caregivers. Even patients who receive a clean bill of health after treatment, worry about the risk of cancer recurrence.

An oncology social worker is a cancer patient’s confidante and a shoulder to cry on. In many cases, oncology social workers are the only people with whom patients with cancer feel fully comfortable expressing their deepest emotions. From one-on-one and family counseling, support groups and community programs, to impromptu phone calls after treatment, an oncology social worker can be the cornerstone of a patient’s support network.

Let’s Honor Oncology Social Workers

Doctors and nurses are recognized for the care they provide to patients. Researchers are acknowledged for the breakthrough treatments and medications they help to develop. We should also not overlook the incredible contributions of oncology social workers to patients with cancer.

Oncology social workers are there for patients with cancer through every obstacle, every lighthearted moment of laughter, and every difficult decision. As we recognize World Social Work Day, let’s honor the compassion, talent, and hard work displayed by oncology social workers as they guide patients with cancer through their treatment.

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Last modified: March 14, 2022

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