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Social Work Awareness Month: A Spotlight of AOSW

March 26, 2024
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Oncology social workers have been an integral part of the cancer care team since the 1970s. The role was born from physicians’ desire to have a member of the multidisciplinary cancer care team who understood and could help patients with cancer manage their psychosocial needs. Decades later, the discipline is stronger than it has ever been, and the Association of Oncology Social Work (AOSW) is a major reason why.

AOSW is the world’s largest professional organization entirely dedicated to the psychosocial care of people affected by cancer. The Association has spent the last 40 years carrying out their vision of achieving “a global society in which oncology care meets the physical, emotional, social, and spiritual needs of all people affected by cancer.” In recognition of March as Social Work Month, ACCCBuzz spoke with AOSW president Michael L. Grignon, LMSW, CCM, MBA, about the importance of oncology social workers, and his vision for the Association during his tenure. 

ACCCBuzz: Why is recognizing Social Work Month important?

Grignon: Recognizing Social Work Month is important because many people are unaware of what social workers do, the institutions we work for, and the range of people we serve. Social workers are highly trained professionals who are employed in hospitals, non-profit agencies, governments, schools, and many other settings. We advocate for policy changes, respond to crises, and intervene to address trauma, illness, and provide end of life care. Recognizing Social Work Month not only gives us the chance to celebrate our profession and our contributions, but also the opportunity to educate the general public on who we are and what we do.

ACCCBuzz: What motivated you to become an oncology social worker?

Grignon: I think it just fell into place, almost like something in the universe clicked. While in my MSW [Master of Social Work] program, I had an interest in working for hospice. Surprisingly, a position with hospice was open when I graduated. I applied, got the job, and spent the first couple of years of my career as a hospice social worker. Obviously, many of those enrolled in hospice were patients with cancer and that experience developed my interest in working with this population.

ACCCBuzz: Just how important is a social worker to a patient’s journey through the cancer care continuum?

Grignon: Invaluable. The healthcare system has its own language, landscape, and culture. When a person is newly diagnosed with cancer, it is often a struggle to adapt to that diagnosis and to the many aspects of this system. Oncology social workers are a patient’s primary guide to understanding this new experience. With our professional education and experience, we are uniquely positioned to assess and address a patients’ psychosocial health; educate them on aspects of their diagnosis and the various parts of the health care system; navigate them through many external systems; and empower them to gradually become informed decision-makers throughout their diagnosis, treatment, and recovery.

ACCCBuzz: Describe the mission and goals of AOSW?

Grignon: AOSW’s mission is “To advance excellence in the psychosocial care of persons with cancer, their families, and caregivers through networking, education, advocacy, research and resource development.” Our goals are to continue to advance oncology social work through professional development; to exemplify excellence in leadership, governance, and knowledge through developing our organization; and to connect people, organizations, and information for the promotion of psychosocial care in oncology.

ACCCBuzz: What are some strategic plans you hope to implement during your tenure as AOSW president?

Grignon: As a membership organization, I think it is incredibly important to focus on what our members want and need to continue to deliver high-quality oncology social work services to the people and institutions they serve. We are seeking ways to enhance member benefits in terms of educational programming, opportunities to develop leadership skills, and increased professional networking. 

In addition, as oncology social work continues to evolve, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic, AOSW remains responsive to developing trends. In accordance, in 2024, AOSW is planning to begin to evaluate and update our oncology social work scope and standards of practice. 

AOSW will also continue to seek growth by strengthening our partnerships with like-minded organizations that share our strategic goals and priorities. We believe this will increase our visibility and input in public policy and decision-making processes that affect oncology social workers. Through these collaborations, we believe AOSW can strengthen the impact our profession has in the cancer community. 

ACCCBuzz: The AOSW 40th Virtual Annual Conference is coming up in May. What can attendees expect from this meeting?

Grignon: Our conference will offer high-quality educational content on topics that range from clinical social work to leadership/management to research, presented by leaders across the oncology social work field. We will offer sessions designed for new oncology social workers, seasoned oncology social workers, and everyone in between. Further, our Education and Membership Committees are exploring methods for reducing “zoom fatigue.” We will also be integrating opportunities for networking/engagement and possibly even putting a unique twist on one of our lunch panel sessions. 

ACCCBuzz: How can organizations like ACCC support the mission of AOSW?

Grignon: First, let me start of by acknowledging the incredible relationship we have with ACCC [Association of Cancer Care Centers]. As I reflect on the ACCC mission, it aligns with AOSW’s focus on excellence in cancer care and being leaders in advancing education and advocacy that positively impacts our cancer care community. Our common goal as strategic partners is to bring together the leaders in our cancer community with the purpose of advocating for the psychosocial needs of patients with cancer and their families.  

Further, I think through partnerships with ACCC and other cancer organizations, AOSW is able to continue to educate the cancer care community at-large about the oncology social work profession: the skillset we possess; how organizations can optimize that skillset; and how we impact patient health and organizational mission/financial outcomes. Through these collaborations, AOSW is able to champion the oncology social work role and communicate the value we provide across the patient and professional community. 

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