Tag Archives: multidisciplinary cancer care

Oncology Social Workers’ Role in Patient-Centered Care

By Fran Becker, LCSW, OSW-C

JPG-2017SWM-LogoWebMarch is National Social Work Month.  This year, the National Association of Social Workers’ theme is “Social Workers Stand Up.”  This is a time to acknowledge the contributions of all social workers.  Some social workers are part of a team, others work independently—all are patient centered in their approach to care.  Oncology social workers are part of this proud group—but our work differs in several ways.  While master’s degree prepared social workers are trained in assessing the psychosocial needs of their clients and in provision of a range of services, oncology social workers often have additional expertise and specialized clinical training in the meaning and impact of a cancer diagnosis on patients and their families.

Oncology social workers must have a working knowledge of cancer treatments, the side effects of treatment, and the psychosocial impact on the patient and family.  This skill set is a broad one, especially for those working in community cancer centers who are called on to help patients and families at all stages of illness and diagnoses. Oncology social workers may assist patients with a wide range of concerns, including issues faced by patients at high risk of cancer, those newly diagnosed, patients in active treatment, as well as helping with survivorship, palliative care, and end-of-life issues.

Oncology social workers need to be knowledgeable about individual and family coping styles, resources, clinical interventions, and employ a myriad of other skills to help patients and families manage the multidimensional (emotional, financial, and physical) impact of a cancer diagnosis through their long journey. This management can range from distress and depression screening to assisting with transportation issues. It can encompass educating patients (and their caregivers) about stress management and self-care. It can entail working with parents on how to talk about cancer in an age-appropriate way with their children or with employees on how to discuss their needs with their employers, and extend to finding community resources to assist with a number of problems.  And, at times, it is sitting with a family facing the loss of a beloved family member.

Key to success as an oncology social worker is the ability to be present, to engage open-heartedly with empathy and compassion, to start where the patient is, focus on hearing the patient and/or family needs, and helping them to meet those needs, which may range from a simple referral to managing complex multidimensional issues.

I often hear—“Your job must be very hard, I don’t know how you do it.” In my career as an oncology social worker, one of the most important things that I’ve learned after 30 years of working with cancer patients and their families is that it is a privilege to walk alongside them during their journey, whatever the outcome.  There are fears and tears, but laughter and warmth, too. To me, oncology patients and their families are role models of courage and grace in the face of an often traumatic and life-changing experience.

As we join in marking National Social Work Month, I would like to acknowledge my fellow oncology social workers and say “thank you” for your contributions as part of the multidisciplinary cancer care team.


Guest blogger Fran Becker, LCSW, OSW-C, is manager of Cancer Support Services, Carl & Dorothy Bennett Cancer Center, Stamford Hospital, and a past member of the ACCC Board of Trustees.

ACCC thanks all oncology social workers for their efforts as part of the multidisciplinary team delivering patient-centered care in cancer programs across the country.

Tap Into the Expertise of Your Cancer Registrar

By Linda Corrigan, MHE, RHIT, CTR

ThinkstockPhotos-507273299Hospitals understand their cancer registry data are sent to state and federal agencies to document incidence rates and to identify cancer clusters. But many may not be realizing the full potential of their cancer registry database, a goldmine full of information that can help your facility. Hospital-specific data provide a wealth of information that can assist with financial and strategic planning, assessing timeliness of treatment, understanding survival rates, conducting community needs assessments, and implementing targeted marketing initiatives.

As the custodians of your data, cancer registrars know it better than anyone and can see trends as they happen. Make sure to include your cancer registrar in meetings and ask for updates. Tap into your cancer registrar’s expertise and put your data to work. Your cancer registrar can:

  • Help your program justify additional staff. For example, by monitoring case volume by site, year, and insurance coverage, your cancer registrar can supply data to make the case for adding physicians to your cancer program.
  • Run reports to identify patterns (or specifics) about who is seen in your cancer program by identifying referring physicians or hospitals. These data can help track trends in patient retention as well as outmigration.
  • Assist with quality improvement/process improvement initiatives. For instance, time to treatment is a frequent target for cancer program improvement efforts. Your cancer registrar can do a deep data dive into your patient population and uncover the exact profile of those patients experiencing the greatest delays.
  • Collect specific data to generate custom reports through user-defined fields in the database. What data do you want to collect? Many registrars have already started reviewing patients seen in the beginning of 2016, so now is the time to talk with your cancer registrar about any additional data you may need for future reports.
  • Compare your data (demographics and disease-site specific data) to that housed in several other national databases.
  • Support your Cancer Committee with data that identifies your patient population and specific health disparities in your service area as the triennial Community Needs Assessment is being completed.

These are just some of the many ways the expertise of your cancer registrar can support your cancer program. An upcoming ACCCBuzz blog post will explore the evolving role of cancer registrars and how your oncology program can support registrars as an integral member of the cancer care team.


ACCC Member Linda Corrigan, MHE, RHIT, CTR, is currently serving as President of the National Cancer Registrars Association.  Learn about the NCRA Annual Education Conference, April 5-7, 2017, here.  Explore NCRA’s Center for Cancer Registry Education here.  The January/February 2016 Oncology Issues features, “Unlock the Potential of the Cancer Registrar,” an article co-authored by Ms. Corrigan that describes how cancer registrars can support lung screening programs within community cancer centers.