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.
Around AOSW—My Goals for This Year
Diversity and inclusion, engagement and career development support. These are the areas I am focused on during my presidency.
Diversity and Inclusion
Let’s face it, we hear these words quite a bit in our daily lives. Yet the premise behind them is so important to all aspects of our lives, especially as members of a professional organization serving people living with an illness that doesn’t discriminate. By now, I hope you have read the AOSW Diversity and Inclusion Goals.
We began to work on these goals while I was Membership Director, following the 2016 AOSW Member Needs Survey. Based on those who responded (30%, N = 390), the survey showed that our organization’s members are overwhelmingly white. We specifically added this question to the survey because this data hadn’t previously been collected. We started examining this further and asking the “hard” questions about contributing factors to this trend, such as:
- Is it possible that primarily white members completed the survey?
- Is it possible that there are more nonwhite oncology social workers practicing who aren’t members?
- What accounts for so few social workers of color in the medical field in general?
- Are there reasons that oncology social workers of color haven’t joined AOSW?
- How are we doing as a community of mostly white OSWs serving people of color across the country?
The survey numbers only confirmed my personal experience as a newcomer years earlier while attending AOSW conferences, wondering why I was one of the few people of color in attendance. I encountered a community of people who cared deeply about this work and many who had dedicated their careers to working with and supporting people with cancer and their loved ones. What was absent was an organizational commitment to addressing this problem, which contributes to the overall health care disparities patients of color face. We realized that in order to reach our goal to recruit more diverse members, we needed to address this issue head on and be as transparent as possible about where we were as an organization and where we’d like to go. The goals include:
- Establishing a seat at the AOSW leadership table by creating a Diversity and Inclusion chair position within the Membership Committee to further advance the organization’s commitment to recruitment and retention of racially and ethnically diverse clinicians.
- Identifying and creating engagement initiatives that help to improve discussion on an inclusive process to sustain recruitment and retention efforts.
- Encouraging AOSW members to volunteer in mentorship and local career-day programs to open up meaningful dialogues and promote oncology social work as a viable area of practice.
According to the ASCO Strategic Plan to Increase Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Oncology Workforce, “Improving quality cancer care in the United States requires the recruitment of oncology professionals from diverse backgrounds” (Winkfield et al., 2017, p. 2576). Progress to date on these goals:
- Susan Hedlund, MSW, LCSW, OSW-C, FAOSW, is currently serving as the Diversity and Inclusion Chair. As an AOSW Past President, Susan shares my passion and commitment to embed diversity and inclusion into the overall strategic priorities for AOSW.
- Focusing on MSW students is a priority. The Membership Committee, led by Kerry Irish-Cox, MSW, LCSW, OSW-C, is working on an MSW Field Instructor Toolkit geared toward providing the necessary tools for preparing AOSW members to train the next generation of oncology social workers.
- Plans for an AOSW Mentorship Program are well underway! More details about this program will be available soon, so please stay tuned!
Jennifer Dunn, MSW, LCSW, OSW-C, Susan Hedlund and I will be presenting a Clinical Practice Intensive at this year’s AOSW conference titled, “In the Eye of the Beholder: Recognizing Our Unconscious Bias in Oncology Social Work Practice.” Join us as we look at this topic more in-depth and discuss ways that you can be involved in this important work!
AOSW is a better organization because of YOU, our members. As I have attended your presentations, viewed your posters and talked with you by phone, the one thing that’s clear is your level of engagement in our profession! I am constantly in awe of the amazing work that so many of you are doing! Your knowledge, expertise and unique experiences are exactly what we need in keeping with our mission “to advance excellence in the psychosocial care of persons with cancer.”
“Engagement” is one of those words we all know but define differently, yet it is vital to the life of any organization. According to Gallup, 32% of U.S. employees are engaged in their work. The times I’ve felt most engaged in my professional career have been when I’ve had fulfilling work, support from leaders, professional growth opportunities and a committed team—that's when I’ve felt valued. These things matter.
Within AOSW, members matter. I don’t narrowly measure engagement as the number of volunteers on a given committee or the number of responses on a survey; rather, I measure engagement as contributions to an organization in a variety of meaningful ways. For some, this might be through volunteerism; for others it might be presenting at our annual conference or supporting a colleague on SWON who needs vital information to help a patient. All are great examples of engaged members.
Your commitment to AOSW is a choice, and I don’t take that for granted. I am committed to introducing and supporting initiatives, ideas and activities that foster engagement. Increased engagement remains one of our highest strategic priorities. As a tangible starting place, I’ll be working with the Board to review and update the information in our Volunteer Center.
Career Development Support
The 2018 AOSW Member Needs Survey showed that 24.47% (N = 523) of respondents have been working in oncology social work for 1-3 years—the highest percentage of any group. One of the largest benefits of being a member of a professional organization is the support, resources and guidance regarding industry trends throughout all levels of one’s career. Some of us have the advantage of a local social work oncology group. As an organization, however, I’d love to see continued expansion of AOSW’s career development resources—support we all need through the trajectory of our careers. This can be extremely beneficial for those in their early to mid-careers.
At this year’s preconference, on Tuesday, there will be presentations on the publication process, essential skill building and leadership. I’ll be working with the Board about ways to keep this kind of momentum going throughout the year. It is my hope that in doing so, an AOSW membership will be a “must-have” rather than a “nice-to-have.” Given that so many of you are the only oncology social worker in your multidisciplinary team, I’d like to see expansion of our online resource library to include industry-specific information, helpful career tips and on-demand support.
Overall, in becoming more diverse and engaged, we don’t just become a better organization; rather, we become a better community. Your Board is working very hard to promote AOSW and oncology social work in a variety of ways. I encourage you to be intentional about recruitment into this field. If you’re not already doing so, I invite you to share your expertise in networking, education, advocacy, research and resource development at any level within AOSW (consistent with our mission) so our community is better prepared to meet the physical, emotional, social and spiritual needs of all people affected by cancer (consistent with our vision).
Winkfield, K.M., Flowers, C.R., Patel, J.D., Rodriguez, G., Robinson, P., Agarwal, A., Pierce, L., Brawley, O., Mitchell, E., Head-Smith, K., Wollins, D.S., & Hayes, D. (2017). American Society of Clinical Oncology strategic plan for increasing racial and ethnic diversity in the oncology workforce. Journal of Clinical Oncology, 35(22), 2576-2579.
About the Author
Eucharia Borden, MSW, LCSW, OSW-C
Eucharia Borden, MSW, LCSW, OSW-C
ArticlesAround AOSW—After Tucson
Around AOSW—Growth, Progress, Transitions
Around AOSW—How Do You Value Yourself?
Around AOSW—My Goals for This Year
Around AOSW—Stress or Sanity? Your Choice
Director's Report: Membership
From the President-Elect: Challenging Social Injustice
From the President-Elect: Defining Our Role in Crucial Moments
From the President-Elect: Reflections On Leadership