When we talk about advocating for patients, whether it’s as an oncology nurse or an oncology social worker, we’re talking about optimal care and quality of life. You could have the greatest treatment in the world, but if your patient doesn’t have transportation to get to that treatment, what’s the point?
As oncology professionals, our job isn’t just to give them chemotherapy or radiation, scans or shots. We have to ensure that patients aren’t missing treatments, struggling financially, or experiencing other barriers. We have to understand their environments, so when needed, we ensure that our patients are capable of adhering to their treatments and getting the care they need.
Oncology nurses and oncology social workers work in tandem to advocate for the needs of their patients. As part of a coordinated cancer care team, the expertise of both complement each other.
By recognizing the capability of others on the cancer team, we’re able to keep patients from falling through the cracks in the healthcare system. For instance, patients may have transportation and are able to afford the visit but may be noncompliant with their treatment regimen or miss appointments. The question is always the same: “Why?” By recognizing oncology social workers’ expertise and referring patients for a psychosocial assessment, underlying issues are identified and a coordinated plan put into place that keeps patients on track for optimal outcomes.
In some instances, patients struggle financially with their treatment plans. Perhaps a patient is the sole breadwinner of the household and undergoing treatment will keep him or her from working. It’s in this instance where an oncology social worker’s expertise is crucial. We’re not just going to give patients websites and local nonprofits that could help. We’re interested in finding out why a financial burden exists. This is something that oncology nurses may recognize but might not be as comfortable pursuing. We’ll work to offer novel solutions to help free up funds to cover medical costs, we may coordinate with employers and patients to create a potential work environment that meets the needs of both, there may be a need for short-term counseling for the family as a whole—it’s usually a combination of many different interventions.
Social workers and their oncology nurse partners often work to create a perfect balance for patients with cancer. By supporting each other in our individual roles, as well as the roles we play with patients, we can act as a safety net for our patients. If one of them stumbles on a crack in the healthcare system, we work together to create that safety net to ensure that they don’t fall.