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.
Volume 3 | Issue 2
As AOSW prepares for our Annual Conference in June, our theme for Issue #2 is “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Psychosocial Oncology.” This issue is not only a primer for what’s to come at Conference, but it’s also a connection point for those members who might not be able to physically attend conference this year.
In preparation for this issue of the newsletter I sat down with Dr. Lailea Noel, current AOSW Director for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, to discuss our history, our current-day, and our future.
Diversity & Inclusion
As social work professionals, we know firsthand how disparities in cancer diagnosis and treatment can affect health outcomes across communities. This disparity is particularly evident in the rate of cancer clinical trial participation among underserved populations. Currently, less than 5% of clinical trial participants identify as Black or African American, despite making up 13% of the total U.S. population (Unger, et. al., 2016) . Research shows that systematic racism, provider bias, eligibility criteria, justified medical mistrust, and lack of patient knowledge, among others, are all factors that lead to this outcome (Hamel, et. al., 2016). Research also tells us that not only are Black patients less likely to join a clinical trial, but they are also less likely to be offered one (Awidi & Al Hadidi, 2021) – meaning a growing proportion of Americans are not fully benefiting from advances in cancer care.
Following a 2016 survey concluding that greater than 90% of membership identifies as white, the Association of Oncology Social Work (AOSW) committed itself to building a community that reflects all people affected by cancer. In the AOSW’s Diversity and Inclusion Statement, the AOSW recognizes that diversity among oncology social workers must keep pace with the increasing ethnic and racial diversity of our patient populations. The AOSW’s statement proclaims that regardless of age, race, national origin, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability, religion and more, all members are valued and welcome. As a result, the AOSW set into motion long-term goals to advance diversity and inclusion at all levels of the organization.
What these mothers do is nothing less than heroic. They nurture life while knowing theirs is finite and in so doing show the miracle of life. It gives their actions an infusion of light and is a gift for those who witness it.
Maribel and Nikki are from different worlds but are trudging the same path, through oncology treatment. They are both in their 30s, both with two young children. They differ by diagnosis and language, but both are dealing with Stage 4 cancer and a poor prognosis.
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) is paramount to assessing and meeting the needs of oncology patients and their families. Addressing differences in patient populations may improve clinical trial participation and general oncology support services. It may also decrease disparities in healthcare services. In answer to this need, oncology organizations are becoming more aware of DEI and how staff can incorporate specific skills into practice. We as oncology social workers have the responsibility of seeking out and perhaps even initiating discussion and education surrounding DEI. So where do we start? The following is a list of DEI trainings, courses and resources. This is not an all-encompassing list, rather we hope it provides a starting point in your search for growth in this area.
When asked to write an article for the Connections newsletter focused on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, it was difficult to know where to start. The topic is enormous and felt overwhelming. However, after some reflection I was reminded of the excellent work done by the Patient Support Services (PSS) Diversity Committee at Moffitt Cancer Center—my place of employment. This committee was formed in 2020 out of the need to provide mutual support and increase dialogue regarding diversity within our department. Over time, the committee has successfully planned activities to keep the celebration and incorporation of new knowledge experiences top of mind. Thus, creating an intentional structure to best highlight and promote our DEI values within Moffitt and the community.
Despite medical advances, breast cancer continues to affect the lives of thousands of women, their families and communities each year. In the U.S., breast cancer remains the most common cancer in women, other than skin cancer and it is the second leading cause of cancer death in women. In New York State, approximately 16,700 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year with 2,500 losing their life to the disease.
The Association of Oncology Social Work (AOSW) offers Special Interest Groups (SIGs) to its members. Yet some members might not know what a SIG entails and so might not join. This can mean a lost opportunity to network, learn and have fun! I am new to SIGs and have already found great value in being with other oncology social workers interested in patient navigation.
For me, the 2023 Annual AOSW Conference will be the culmination of months of planning, talking, emailing and wrangling; plus, hours of reading countless abstracts and working with an amazing group of dedicated OSWs.
Long before I started working in oncology and joined AOSW, I was very involved in the Society for Transplant Social Workers. Both organizations offered similar things to me – passionate colleagues dedicated to the well-being of our patients and their families.