Amy Colver, LCSW
Melody Griffith, MSW, LMSW, OSW-C
AOSW Communications Director
Jeanice Hansen, LCSW, OSW-C
To submit a story or information for inclusion in a future issue of AOSW Newsletter, contact Amy Colver or Melody Griffith on the list above.
AOSW Around the World: When Individual Advocacy Efforts Are No Longer Enough
The patient is a 47-year-old single mother of two adolescents who has been diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer. This woman will soon start a concurrent radiotherapy and chemotherapy treatment. She has revealed that she has stopped working, is experiencing financial difficulty and is without transport for her treatments that start in a week. The oncology social worker has been asked to do an assessment of social functioning.
This is just one example of a situation when a hospital oncology social worker’s expertise is required. In reality, hospital social workers play many roles within their various interdisciplinary teams, ranging from clinical evaluation of social functioning and psychosocial treatment plan, to liaising with the health and social services network, to being a consultant and educator. They are regularly called to evaluate diverse situations that other health professionals have noted require social service intervention.
In November 2012, oncology social workers at the McGill University Hospital Centre invited approximately 50 social workers working in the field of medical oncology for a first-time formal meeting. This group represented the vast majority of general care hospital centers offering oncology care in Montreal in both the French and English sectors. During this meeting those present discussed:
- The profile of the oncology social worker
- The organization of social service departments in our respective establishments
- The mandate of our oncology programs
- Frequently used tools and resources
- Types of social services offered to our clients
The meeting was a great success, not only in terms of the number and participation of the social workers present, but also in the discussion that highlighted our shared concerns. The group quickly recognized that social resources are sometimes unequal, seldom sufficient, and often absent to address the needs and requests of our patients, loved ones and our teams. With the acknowledgement of this gap in resources, we knew that working together in solidarity would be a great strength and our best way to address these shared social concerns. From this meeting, a small working group was formed to ensure that the momentum and work continue toward a collective well-being for clients and workers alike. (Click on photo to enlarge)
Our first meetings were used to discuss several issues specific to social workers, including the reality of practice in hospitals, the professional identity of social workers in oncology, and clarifying “psychosocial evaluation” as defined by the Psychosocial Oncology Committee of the “Direction de la lutte contre le cancer” in March 2011. Many ideas have since emerged on how we might evolve as a professional association in order to recognize our particular practice and advocate regarding systemic issues that might be most effectively addressed as a collective. It is worth noting that our very enthusiastic and engaging group meetings continue to be held in both English and French!
Based on existing associations that include oncology social workers working in the United States and Canada (namely the Association of Oncology Social Work and the Canadian Association of Psychosocial Oncology), we have begun working toward forming our own local network to leverage our professional expertise and advocacy efforts and to work toward a society in which oncology care meets the physical, emotional, social, and spiritual needs of people affected by cancer, with a focus on greater access to quality social services and support in Montreal. To do this, our mission is to:
- Foster communication and support among oncology social workers
- Advocate as a collective for improved access to services and support for people facing a cancer diagnosis
- Share and develop resources pertinent to the needs of our client population
- Promote continuing education to advance the practice of oncology social workers and those entering the field of oncology to develop the highest standard of quality care
Of course, the task is daunting in a time of socio-economic austerity where budget cuts from different levels of government have been directly affecting social services in many institutions. Nonetheless, we believe the efforts of our collective are crucial. Our work on the frontline makes us some of the best placed professionals to witness and observe the psychosocial needs of people facing a cancer diagnosis and, as social workers, some of the most appropriate and invested advocates to work toward change.