Claire belongs to the patient population of middle-aged (45-65) Caucasian females diagnosed with breast cancer. She will work with an interdisciplinary team of health care professionals, including an oncology social worker. Oncology social workers provide holistic care to individuals with cancer – a disease “caused by uncontrolled growth and spread of abnormal cells in the body” (Lee et al., 2019, p. 442). An oncology social worker’s primary roles and responsibilities include psychosocial assessment, navigation of patients, providing education, counseling, finding financial and other support services, and discharge planning.
In addition to an oncologist social worker, an interdisciplinary team could include a medical oncologist, a radiation oncologist, a surgical oncologist, a radiologist, a spiritual support advisor, and nurses. Mitchell et al. (2012) provide an example of the interdisciplinary team based in MD Anderson Cancer Center, Texas, where previously stated collaboration of specialists is supplemented by specialized therapists, pathologists, a clinical pharmacist, and a genetic counselor. The oncology interdisciplinary team members perform their responsibilities serving to reach the common goal of optimal treatment provision.
The oncologists consider the health condition of Claire, probable effectiveness of treatment and make treatment decisions due to the cancer invasiveness and stage of the disease. They explain the diagnosis, treatment options and help manage the side effects and symptoms. The medical oncologist provides immunotherapy, targeted therapy, chemotherapy, the radiation oncologist – radiation therapy, and the surgical oncologist removes tumors during operations and performs biopsies (Cancer.Net, 2020). Nurses might perform physical examinations, give medications, coordinate the treatment process, provide education and consultations, and execute research. The genetic counselor informs families about cancer risk, the pathologist examines tissues, and the pharmacist works in the field of drug administration, managing side effects and dosages. The social worker performs screening to identify possible risks, provides assessment, executes psychosocial interventions, and links the patient and family to important resources.
The social worker might collaborate with the other team members in various ways, but the most valuable role is a “communication bridge.” The team could coordinate activities through meetings and electronic health records assessable both for patients and different specialists. During meetings, the social worker plays the role of the mediator between Claire and her family and the team of professionals and integrates the psychosocial information with the data provided by nursing and medicine staff. For example, the social worker should be aware of Claire’s possible chronic diseases or other detrimental conditions. When collaborating with the health care team members, the social worker tells them about the results of screening, assessment, and interventions and describes the influence of sociocultural factors.
The social worker addresses psychosocial concerns identified by the team in ways tailored to the family’s cultural beliefs and health literacy. The professional could explain the information obtained from other interdisciplinary team members to Claire and her family in detail, clarify vague terminology, or describe procedures. According to Maramaldi et al. (2014), when social workers deal with psychosocial issues, other team members could focus on performing activities of their primary competency. Hence, the social worker acts as a liaison for productive communication and referrals to hospital services and community resources.
The members of an interdisciplinary team are patient and family-oriented. They share the following common values: honesty, discipline, creativity, humility, and curiosity (Mitchell et al., 2012). They also follow common goals, perform clearly stated roles, trust each other, engage in productive communication, provide feedback, and embrace flexibility. However, working with an interdisciplinary health care team might be challenging in some ways. There could be conflicts due to task allocations that could be addressed by clarifying the roles. The absence of personnel could be solved through flexibility and additional training. There could be conflicts among professionals, patients, and their families induced by unmanageable emotions of fear and uncertainty. Discomfort brought by cancer treatment could provoke patients and their families to show resentment and negative attitudes. Claire will have to cope with the loss of her breast, other probable cosmetic changes, inability to perform some daily activities, and financial insecurities.
When addressing the challenges, it might be useful for the social worker to know supportive counseling and crisis intervention techniques, understand the culture and beliefs of the patient and colleagues, and effectively create links between people involved in the treatment. The social worker should prevent and resolve arising confrontation by teaching both patients and colleagues coping strategies. Conflicts among members of the interdisciplinary team could negatively affect Claire and her family because they create excessive tensions and could cause medical errors.
When working with the patient, family, and other stakeholders, such as caregivers, as Claire’s social worker, I would perform the previously described actions, such as screening and assessment. I would focus my attention on dealing with emotional issues related to Claire’s diagnosis. People diagnosed with cancer and their relatives are always overwhelmed with uncertainties about their future and may experience depression and anxiety (Lee et al., 2019). Claire could feel that she losses self-esteem and fails to adapt to changes in her identity. Claire and her family members could be screened for different psychological disorders related to her diagnosis and provided with psychoeducation helping them maintain the sense of control over lives, identifying family sources of power.
I would introduce Claire and her family to support groups, counseling, and crisis intervention therapists, helping them to deal with emotional issues related to Claire’s diagnosis. I suppose her husband and children could also be depressed and worried. It is also possible that Claire and her family will need the spiritual help of a chaplain or other religious support, so as Claire’s social worker, I would be ready to meet the family’s needs in every possible way to restore their confidence.
Cancer.Net (2020). The oncology team. Web.
Lee, H. Y., Lee M. H., & Kayser, K. (2019). Oncology social work. In S. Gehlert & T. Browne (Eds.), Handbook of health social work (3rd., pp. 441-62). Wiley. Web.
Maramaldi, P., Sobran, A., Scheck, L., Cusato, N., Lee, I., White, E., & Cadet, T. J. (2014). Interdisciplinary medical social work: A working taxonomy. Social Work in Health Care, 53(6), 532-551. Web.
Mitchell, P., Wynia, M., Golden, R., McNellis, B., Okun, S., Webb, C. E., Rohrbach, V., & Von Kohorn, I. (2012). Core principles & values of effective team-based health care [Discussion paper]. Washington, DC: Institute of Medicine. Web.