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.
In Memoriam: Kimberly Lawson, DSW, MSW, LCSW, BSW, FAOSW
Few of us get the opportunity to reflect on the life contributions of another oncology social work professional, but we will attempt to provide that for Dr. Kimberly Lawson. The picture will be incomplete because Kim recently died from a refractory form of endometrial cancer. Although many of the initial disease factors seemed favorable, the disease was relentless. She completed frontline chemotherapy but the disease recurred shortly thereafter. She enrolled in two clinical trials, viewing the treatments with hope, but the disease continued to progress. Throughout this period, she continued the pursuit of her DSW, telling few of the personal challenges she faced. Like so many with a cancer diagnosis, she simply wanted to be viewed first as an individual and not as a disease.
Kim discovered medical social work in her undergraduate education and later found oncology social work. In 1984, she received her BSW, with honors, from the University of Central Florida and after three years of night classes, her MSW from Florida State in 1994. More importantly, Kim discovered a lifelong curiosity for learning, investigation and mentorship. This love of learning created an enduring passion for oncology social work education, program development, practice and mentorship, which was fueled by a lifelong commitment to professional development for herself and the social workers around her. Like so many of her peers, Kim’s professional dedication was not abstract, but came from the loss of her first husband to cancer. Her experiences being a cancer caregiver eventually motivated her doctoral work.
Kim began her career in health care as a dedicated inpatient social worker at Florida Hospital where she covered oncology, surgery, intensive and progressive care with PRN responsibility for urology, orthopedics, pediatrics (including adoptions), eating disorders and the emergency room. Given the breadth of these clinical responsibilities, Kim became recognized for combining front-line social work duties and psychosocial support for families in crisis. She stayed in this role for 10 years and, as a harbinger of the future, she seized an opportunity to complete a qualitative research project with one of her social work professors that addressed characteristics of bachelor’s level social work interns who were offered employment based on internship performance. This early career experience ignited her passion for research as a mechanism to advance the profession.
Inspired by oncology patient and caregiver stories of their unmet needs, Kim worked to integrate social work and psychosocial care “on the front lines” in the radiation oncology clinic. This work grew to address the needs of individuals and families across the spectrum of cancer diagnoses and prognoses. She understood that to provide holistic and excellent care required deliberate design thinking, more staffing and articulated quality standards. Kim worked tirelessly in collaboration with her mentors at Florida Hospital Cancer Institute (FHCI) to create a financially justified, evidenced-based staffing model for an integrated, comprehensive, oncology psychosocial program at the institute, which she presented to the hospital chief financial officer.
Kim transformed this model into the Psychosocial Support program at FHCI, and then served as the founding program manager from 2001 to 2006. She was so proud of the program she developed and the people she worked alongside! The program encompassed psychosocial and educational services for outpatient oncology clinics, and it eventually grew to provide social work services to medical and radiation oncology, neuro-oncology, gynecologic oncology, bone marrow transplant, pediatric hematology/oncology, and multiple disease-specific service lines (breast, colon, thoracic, etc.) across three counties and six campus locations. She was also recognized as a driving force in bringing Schwartz Rounds to FHCI in support of the professional care team needs. Ultimately, the program became a pillar of patient-focused services, core to the FHCI Affiliate designation.
Kim had strong women mentors in her life that she highly valued, and paid that guidance forward for the remainder of her life. Although a member of 20 national and international organizations that spanned the breadth of psychosocial support, Kim was particularly dedicated to AOSW (member since 1986) and the Florida Society of Oncology Social Workers (member since 1984). Her AOSW and FSOSW peers encouraged her to present and take up leadership posts at local, state, national and international conferences. Kim served in multiple roles in FSOSW (President and Executive Board Member 1995-1996) and AOSW (Region III Director, President and Past President 2003-2008). She served as a Field Instructor for undergraduate and graduate Social Work UCF programs, and successfully mentored several candidates through the American Cancer Society Clinical Oncology Social Work Training Grant awards from 1997 to 2000. Even last year, while undergoing chemotherapy, she volunteered to serve as a conference abstract mentor for AOSW.
Kim was recognized by her peers for her distinguished service contributions:
- In 1997, she received the Oncology Social Worker of the Year Award from FSOSW.
- In 1998, AOSW named her Oncology Social Worker of the Year.
- In 2007, she received the Inaugural Leadership in Oncology Social Work Award from the ACS Florida Division and FSOSW.
- In June 2018, she was a member of the inaugural Fellows cohort of the Association of Oncology Social Work (FAOSW), which honors individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the science and practice of psychosocial oncology and AOSW. Kim did not receive this recognition in person because she was finishing her final cycle of chemotherapy.
For 20 years, Kim dreamed of pursuing a doctoral degree. As remote learning opportunities became a reality, Kim “dared” to apply to the DSW program at the University of Pennsylvania and was admitted to its first hybrid online cohort. She sought to understand how, with an aging social work workforce increasingly likely to be personally impacted by a cancer diagnosis, clinicians integrated these experiences in their professional use of self with an interest in developing training to guide disclosure of personal experiences with cancer. She received funding from the American Cancer Society for a Doctoral Training Scholarship Grant in Oncology Social Work to join a cohort of developing oncology social work scholars from diverse institutions. She drew on her vast professional networks to design and implement the first dissertation of its kind in the field, a topic that resonated with participants across the country and across disciplinary lines. In her final months, she completed work on this dissertation and the University of Pennsylvania awarded her degree posthumously on May 20. With the support of her mentorship team, her research findings will be disseminated later this year.
For those of us who had the opportunity to meet and know Kim, we will never forget her incredibly warm smile, passion for her profession, and her dedication to learning and sharing that were hallmarks of both her personal and professional lives. She juggled her extraordinarily accomplished professional career and commitment to learning with providing ongoing care to her first husband, brother, nephew, mother and countless others whom she loved so fiercely. Kim was an avid baker, feeding those around her as an expression of her unyielding warmth.
Kim died on Tuesday, March 5, surrounded by her loving husband, Al Lawson, her mother and life-long friends. Her death is a devastating loss to her family and friends, and to the oncology social work community to which she had dedicated her professional life. To those she has inspired, her family and friends urge you to carry your passion for oncology social work, volunteer often and never miss the chance to share what you have learned.