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This presentation will focus on an underutilized model of supportive care that can help bring back some of the human moments that can often be lost in delivering supportive oncology care. Handling the often complicated issues that arise in oncology care can take a toll on social workers and our oncology co-workers in other disciplines. In oncology care, especially in an outpatient setting, social workers often fulfill the role of emotional support not just for our patients but also for other oncology professionals. Though we are not employed to act as such, we dually assume the position of therapist and co-worker and are left to bear not only our own burdens, but the emotional burdens of our co-workers. Which leaves the question that we often ask the family members of our patients: Who is caring for the caregiver? The literature that looks at collective supportive care for social workers is extremely scarce and focuses largely on models of self-care and supervision. The narrative seemingly articulated by this dearth of research is “help others, and on top of taking care of others, don’t forget to help yourself.” For oncology social workers, a statement easier said than done.

How do we sustain ourselves and continue to support our patients and our co-workers? Simply avoiding burn-out is not adequate. It’s critical that social workers have an opportunity to be supported, to celebrate accomplishments, to grieve our losses, and equally important, to laugh at ourselves and some of the situations we find ourselves in on any given day. In short, find ways to be “fired up” about ourselves and the important, and at times, excruciating work we do. In our setting, we have developed, and are continually amending, a supportive care model to address these needs. This model first requires the admission that we, as caregivers, have needs ourselves. Strategies include more formal “rituals” of celebrating staff members’ birthdays, special occasions and accomplishments and incorporating time in staff meetings to discuss what inspires us, to more fluid approaches including acknowledging the value of different clinical approaches and recognizing the value of humor and laughter. In this interactive workshop, we will discuss what motivated our team to recognize how our work was affecting us and our own needs for support. We will share how small changes can lead to big improvements in morale. Whether new to oncology social work or a seasoned oncology social worker, attendees of this workshop will learn and practice strategies to keep the fire of “job love” burning.

Poster presented at: Association of Oncology Social Workers 2017 in Atlanta Georgia, United States.

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Oncology Commons