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Why You Should Ask to See an Oncology Social Worker

POSTED BY: Joe Townsend

When most people hear about social workers, it incites images of children being taken from their parents.  However, this exaggeration only highlights a small population of social workers. In fact, there are a variety of fields a social worker can be part of, including the Department of Child and Family (DCF) services, which has received the most media attention.

One of those fields includes social workers utilized in hospital systems. To help paint a different picture than the above mentioned, I had a chance to interview Chuck Miceli, CCSW, BBCD, OSW-C, the manager of social work at the Florida Hospital Cancer Institute, for a unique look at social workers in the hospital.

Q: Let’s start off with ‘What are social workers?’

A: Let's take that even further by talking about the types of social workers. There are clinical social workers such as myself, administrative social workers who work in places such as human resources, case managers who work largely on discharge planning in our hospitals, and community social workers that work in community programs such as employee assistance, DCF, etc.

What we do here at the cancer institute is clinical social work. The difference with oncology social workers is that we're an outpatient service. Case managers on the other hand, are an inpatient service with a primary function of discharge planning. We, however, do some case management but mostly focus on clinical counseling – including the adjustment to diagnosis and illness counseling. As a result of that, we're much closer to mental health practitioners than our case manager counterparts.

Q: What type of services do oncology social workers provide?

A: We can see anything of the emotional aspect to the real pragmatic "How will I get to treatment?" types of problems. So we typically break those into two different groups of services: emotional support, such as counseling, and practical support, such as help with transportation, financial aid, etc.

On emotional support, we counsel patients in regards to the emotional and psychological responses to cancer diagnosis, treatment and survivorship. What distinguishes an oncology social worker from a mental health practitioner is that, although they are both counseling disciplines, their training is quite different. For oncology social workers, we are trained to be in the very environment that we are serving, such as right here in the cancer institute, being housed on the patient floors, in dialysis, etc.

Q: What training is needed to become a licensed social worker?

A: A licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) is a master level social worker (MSW) that has gone through the clinical classes in the MSW program followed by two and a half years of clinical supervision. Then you take a licensure exam. In the state of Florida, an LCSW is able to use the title "Licensed Psychotherapist" because with the LCSW you can provide psychotherapy. All oncology social workers in the cancer institute are LCSW’s.

Q: Who should see an oncology social worker?

A: As far as oncology goes, everyone should see a social worker at least once after diagnosis. This way we are able to screen for an individual's needs and provide them with the appropriate resources they may not find on their own. I highly recommend individuals who have depression, stress, addictions and/or cognitive barriers to see a social worker.

Q: How do I get in touch with an oncology social worker?

A: The best way to get in touch with a social worker is in the very beginning, when you are discovering your oncology team. Our social workers are part of that team -- we have a social worker in every clinic and as a result, patients can use them as a valuable resource. Even if you may not need a social worker at that moment, it's so important to know that you always have that resource available to you.

If you are a cancer survivor or are currently undergoing treatment, have you used a social worker? What was your experience?

If you would like to contact a social worker, call (407) 303-1700. For resources, including additional information on social workers, support groups and programs, visit Florida Hospital Cancer Institute Support Services.