Social Workers are an integral element in the practice of medicine. The Social Worker develops a strong link between the institution, where he/she is employed, and the community. Studies have shown a significant role of Social Workers in improving the quality of life of patients suffering from advanced cancer or terminal stages of the disease; in decreasing the suicide rates in patients with substance abuse; in guiding the patients and the family members to co-ordinate a multifaceted healthcare regiment at both hospital and home; and in facilitating the research work and testing of newer initiatives.
In mentoring Survivors I find many are not familiar with the knowledge and assistance the Social Worker has to offer. I decided to interview a Social Worker so, hopefully, Survivors will learn more about the Social Workers’ value in their recovery.
I am interviewing Jackie Kees, MSW, Cancer Care Counselor, St. Lukes University Hospital
Kathy: What level of education is required to be a Social Worker?
Jackie: In order to work in oncology, it is required to have a Master's level of Social Work from an Accredited School.
Kathy: How long have you been a Social Worker?
Jackie: In my heart, I feel as though I have been a social worker forever. It's something of a calling in my life, as I have always felt drawn to the work of helping others. My path was a bit detoured as my parents were not supportive of this decision in the early 80's, and felt that was "not a lucrative career." My high school guidance counselor and then college guidance counselor favored my parent’s decision and steered me towards education, stating I could be "just as helpful". While I ended up getting a Bachelor's degree in Elementary Education and taught for several years, it was not fulfilling. I returned to school to get my Masters in Social Work and finally found my "home". It has now been 24 years that I have been in the field and the BEST years.
Kathy: Did you choose Oncology, if yes why?
Jackie: I did choose oncology as I had worked in hospice for 20 of my 24 years as a Social Worker. Hospice was incredibly rewarding and a blessing to be with patients at their final moments. I was helping patients write letters to their loved ones for when they were no longer alive, I made videos of the patients as they said their farewells, and was present in the sacred moments when the patient took their last breath. After 24 years, I felt I needed a change, and had an opportunity to transition to oncology. I felt it would be much easier than hospice but what a shock to learn it has actually been much more challenging. In hospice, patients have processed their diagnosis, in oncology, patients are receiving their diagnosis and it is raw, painful, the emotions are much higher. The levels of emotions that are dealt with are greater, thus making the work more difficult from a social work perspective.
Kathy: What are your responsibilities?
Jackie: Meeting patients in Medical Oncology, Radiation Oncology or Surgical Oncology when they are given their diagnosis and offering a supportive presence. Meeting patients at their first infusion and sitting with them to offer support, provide supportive counseling to any patient in active treatment while there are receiving treatment, being available to meet with any patient in any of the oncology offices that may be struggling during an appointment, attend various meetings as needed, maintain ongoing contact with the patients that are receiving treatment, provide chair side counseling to patients receiving chemo and radiation, follow up with phone calls for patients that have completed a Distress Thermometer (self-screening tool indicating a level of stress), offer financial counseling for patients that are struggling and identify resources to assist as needed (this has become overwhelmingly challenging during COVID,) work with the Area Agency on Aging with assisting patients securing resources for in home services as needed, work with family members as they attempt to secure the program to be paid caregivers through the county, work closely with the Cancer Support Community and connecting patients with their services, assist patients with obtaining wigs, handicap placards, social security disability, FMLA,( I could go on but I am sure you are bored by now!)
Kathy: With the many changes in cancer treatment, must you take continuation classes?
Jackie: If a Master's Social Worker has a License, they are required, as per the licensure, to maintain a certain amount of training hours per year. A License is not required with a Master's degree, it is optional. As with any profession, we are always seeking new information. The Cancer Center at St. Luke's has 2 Nurse Educators that provide on line and in person training throughout the year to keep us updated on all new treatments and procedures.
Kathy: What is the most important/most rewarding part of your work?
Jackie: Without a doubt, watching the patients ring the bell when they have completed their treatment and being present at that moment. Knowing the journey they had been on to get to that point, the tough days, the days when they had NO desire to be there, when they cried and I held their hand and then watch them complete their treatment, Wow, no greater feeling! That part of their journey is completed and they allowed me to walk alongside of them with it, that is the most rewarding for me and to be there, building a rapport with the patient and being present for them, that is the most important part of my job.
Kathy: Are all oncology patients aware of the many issues the Social Workers can assist them with?
Jackie: When a patient arrives for their very first visit, they complete what we call a Distress Thermometer. It is a self-screening tool that the patient scores how they are feeling emotionally. The offices email that form to the social workers and then we reach out to make the initial phone call. From there, we schedule to meet the patient at their first infusion or their first radiation treatment.
Kathy: Do the patients have open access to the Social Workers?
Jackie: When the patient is finished their first visit with the Doctor, they are given a sheet with all the Oncology Social Workers names, phone numbers and e-mails. This form has a brief description of the role of the Social Worker and who is covering which campus.
Kathy: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Jackie: We are always looking to improve what we do and how we help others. The only
thing I might like to add is to ask your readers if they have any input from their experience, how they would have liked to have been helped and weren't, that would be SUPER helpful. We need to know more from a cancer patient/survivor perspective what people need.
We must address the needs of the Patients and help them navigate through the system. It is overwhelming for them to learn and understand all of their appointments. Additionally, we help them with transportation and the Sole Sistas has been instrumental in helping patients get to where they need to be when they have no other way of getting there. Your mentoring program has helped many a Survivor on their journey. Also, during this pandemic the Sole Sistas have helped to put food in the homes of patients that had very little. It takes a village and we are beyond blessed to have the Sole Sistas be a part of the village!!!
Thank you very much Jackie for taking the time to help get some much needed information out to Survivors.
Thanks for all you do!
If you have any ideas or suggestions that can help both the Survivor and the Social Worker, please email to: email@example.com
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