Social Work and Cancer

The Role of the Medical Social Worker

When you are facing a cancer diagnosis, a medical social worker can be an important member of your medical care team.

Social workers provide support and information in terms of coping with your feelings around diagnosis and treatment. Along your cancer journey, there can be a lot of new information to come to terms with and understand. A social worker can help you deal with very natural feelings of anxiety, fear and sadness about the future.

Social workers can be a link to your hospital care team. A medical social worker will provide a safe, confidential and supportive environment where you can discuss your concerns about diagnosis, treatment and any other issues relating to your care. The main aspects of the social workers role are listed below.

1. Psychosocial Assessments:

This includes an assessment of the patient, their ability to cope with their diagnosis/illness and also their families coping ability and resources.

2. Emotional Support and Counselling:

Issues dealt with include:

  • Assisting both patient and his/her family to come to terms with the patient’s illness
  • Undertaking direct work with children in relation to the above
  • Crisis Intervention
  • Dealing with any issue pertinent to the patient and his/her family

3. Liaison and Advocacy:

This involves acting on behalf of patients when contacting outside agencies, community services and sometimes liaising with the medical team.

4. Assistance with Practical/Financial and Legal Issues

5.     Assistance with Care and Discharge Planning During an Admission to Hospital

Psycho-oncology/ Psycho-social support

Psycho-oncology is an area of practice that looks at the aspects of cancer treatment that goes beyond medical treatment, and looks to the psychological life style and social aspects of cancer. It is a whole person approach to cancer care that addresses a range of human need that can help improve quality of life for cancer patients.

Some hospitals have a dedicated psycho-oncology team where patients can be referred to for an assessment/support during their treatment. A medical social worker may work with or alongside the other members the psycho-oncology team.

Many hospitals do not have a specific psycho-oncology service however your hospital care team can help you navigate your way through treatment, consider options, cope with your feelings, and help you cope with everyday practical challenges in a way that focuses on what’s best for you and those close to you.