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Oncology Social Workers: Helping Heal the Wounds We Can’t See

Thu, 03/04/2021 - 09:00

closeup of two people holding hands

New Brunswick, N.J., March 4, 2021 – Among the doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other specialists, there is another important member of the health care team at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey: the oncology social worker. Social workers in the oncology field play a critical role in cancer care, helping patients, their families and caregivers successfully navigate many of the challenges they face.

An Important Resource for Help and Support

Oncology social workers have specialized training to assess, process and address the psychosocial needs of patients and are able to focus on the multidimensional impact of a cancer diagnosis on patients and their families. Services provided by oncology social workers include facilitating support groups and connecting patients to additional support services, providing individual counseling for anxiety and depression, and help with the complicated emotional and psychosocial aspects of cancer diagnosis, treatment and survivorship. Services also include explaining diagnoses to friends and family, mediating patient-caregiver conflicts, counseling for physical changes and body image and identity issues, supporting patients during palliative care and end-of-life discussions, participating in advance care planning discussions regarding a patient’s goals of care, helping patients address chronic pain with mindfulness interventions, and providing culturally competent care.

An Evolving Role

The barriers patients face with a cancer diagnosis are always evolving and social workers must stay educated and informed about the resources that will best serve their patients. Oncology social workers attend regular continuing education courses to stay updated on the most current evidence- based practices to best serve their patients. With increased focus on patient-centered care and mental health education and treatment, oncology social workers have the opportunity to provide compassionate care and make a difference in the lives of more patients and families.

Mitigating the Impact of COVID-19

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, oncology social workers continue to provide in-person, virtual and phone support to patients at Rutgers Cancer Institute, and collaborate with social work colleagues across the RWJBarnabas Health oncology service line. The pandemic has added an additional layer of complication to patients already dealing with the stress of a cancer diagnosis. Some of the stressors that social workers are addressing include increased isolation, additional barriers to care, grief and loss and financially surviving during an economic recession. Social workers help patients navigate these especially difficult times and overcome barriers to care with access to resources and providing mental health support and advocacy.

Social workers are essential. Don’t hesitate to ask to be connected to your oncology social worker. For more information, visit:

Elizabeth Brady, MSW, LCSW and Diana Brodowski, MSW, LCSW are licensed clinical social workers at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey.

For journalists – contact:
Krista Didzbalis 
Media Relations Assistant 

For patient appointments/inquiries – contact:
844-CANCERNJ (844-226-2376)