Wednesday, March 30, 2011

national social workers month

I just found out march is national social workers month. Well, the month is almost over but never too late to recognize all the great social workers out there! My baby sis is a sw that works with teens in a high school. I think most of us can imagine how tough a job that is as well as how needed it is. I took advantage of the breast cancer sw at the big cancer house when I first started this ordeal. Let me tell you again how much it helped. We had a sw at the nursing home I trained at to get my nursing assistant certificate. If anyone could use a social worker, it is the elderly! They are dealing with so many issues: financial, death and dying, loneliness, health, physical and mental changes...

I have to admit that before I saw a social worker myself, I didn't really know what exactly they did! Here is a good explanation (below) that I've copied and pasted from the livestrong blog:

by Guest
It’s National Social Worker’s Month! Social workers improve the quality of health care by being advocates for people who need help addressing serious life challenges and exploring options. Below is a note written by the President-Elect of the Association of Oncology Social Workers.
“I wish I had known you were here sooner.” That was an oft heard heartbreaking message I heard from patients and family members as an Oncology Social Worker. Here is the deal: (start eerie music..) Oncology Social Work is shrouded in mystery in many cancer treatment centers. I could have neon posters, flyers and brochures promoting Oncology Social Work (OSW) services and they were too easily passed over for the medical information available in a resource room. That was my rude awakening when I was lucky to score a full-time job in a physician practice in Austin in the late 1980′s. Cancer treatment was just moving out of inpatient settings for many patients, and physicians discovered the need to have a Social Worker on site to address the issues that often fall through the cracks in a medical setting. I quickly developed a lot of humility recognizing that people were not at the oncology clinic to visit me! The much more urgent medical needs trumped my offerings for good reason.
Who needs an OSW, anyway?
At the risk of academic boredom, Social Work theory views a person within the multiple systems that define their lives. We view a person’s constitution as a result of their communities, homes, families, schools, spirituality, job status, financial situations, friends, etc. When making an assessment, a SW cannot separate a person from his/her environment. This is the most important distinction one can make about how a social worker can be of help in a medical setting. Cancer can devastate one’s life upon diagnosis. Even if a person is feeling well, most of the treatments they will undergo will create challenges in their day to day lives. There are significant emotional reactions as well, for a patient and their loved one. There are practical concerns like managing to continue in ones role prior to diagnosis: Will I be able to work? Will I be able to take care of my children? Will I be able to stay in school? How will my family cope with my illness? How will my illness affect my financial situation? Will I be disabled? Will I be disfigured? Am I eligible for any support services? What if I cannot drive myself to treatment? What if I have no insurance? Should I apply for disability? Will my doctor discontinue treatment if I cannot pay? These are concerns that can be addressed by an OSW. As well, a good part of my practice is spending time with caregivers and loved ones of patients. Matter of fact, there was a consensus among the couples I worked with that posited that the cancer experience is harder on the caregiver/loved one than it is on the patient.
Can we talk about that Elephant in the Room?
“I am not satisfied with my doctor but I am afraid if I change doctors he/she will be mad.” “I intend to live to 100, but just in case, can we talk about what my disease will be like at the end?” “I want to create a legacy project for my infant daughter, should I not survive.” “My sex drive is on a road trip somewhere, how can I get it back?” “I am so exhausted, I am thinking of quitting treatment.” “Would you help me write my will and get power of attorney documents?” “My friends say I look great since finishing treatment…. Why don’t I feel so great?” Oncology Social Workers are counselors. Most have a master’s degree in Social Work and a tremendous amount of expertise in therapy and counseling. Due to heavy caseloads, most OSW’s focus on brief format counseling and group work which is most compatible with people with cancer. The shock, anxiety, fear and grieving can be addressed by an OSW. Should more significant needs arise, your social worker can refer you to a professional in the community. Good news is that most OSW’s salaries are covered by the physician practice so there are no charges for OSW services.
Get a hug- Give a hug!
March is Oncology Social Work Month! I hope you learned something helpful, and I appreciate the opportunity to toot the OSW horn in this blog! Oncology Social Workers are also available at LIVESTRONG, via the helpline 1-855-220-7777, online and the new Patient Navigation Center in Austin.
Ann Fairchild, LCSW
Association of Oncology Social Work


  1. Thanks for this post. I've never given a lot of thought to the sw - in fact, I think your blog is the only place I've ever heard of one for breast cancer. I wonder if most cancer type hospitals have a sw on staff. It'd be nice to know, since I come across so many new people dx'd with cancer - it'd be good to be able to refer them somewhere...

  2. Teri, I never heard of it before either. After I met with my genetics counselor, I asked her if she could refer me to a shrink and she had me see their social worker instead. Many of the hospitals have them now especially if they have a breast cancer clinic.

  3. Hospitals have social workers for inpatients. Some outpatient centers have social workers, also, but in or outpatient should all be able to refer you to available resources.