As health care providers, it is our professional duty to provide the best care to cancer patients according to the established standard of care in the field of oncology. It is important to provide accurate information, to present the pros and cons of various decisions; and to implement the care that the patient wants and needs. We need to be able to do this in a way that is empathetic and non-judgmental.
As health care professionals we sometimes forget the sheer number of people that cancer patients come in contact with, especially when they are newly diagnosed. Patients may see a surgeon, radiation oncologist, and medical oncologist. They need to go to a lab for blood work and to imaging for scans and x-rays. Add to that list, receptionists, secretaries, schedulers, medical assistants and ancillary staff such as social workers, dietitians, nurse navigators, insurance case managers, and billing staff. It is not an exaggeration to say that patients may come in contact with 30 members of the health care team within just a few short weeks. It is easy to see why patients are often overwhelmed and have no idea with whom they talked or at which office the staff person works.
Each person on the health care team has the opportunity to establish connections and relationships every time a patient is encountered. It begins with a greeting and a smile. We need to be aware of our nonverbal language and tone of voice. We need to make eye contact with patients (as long as it is culturally appropriate to do so) and most important of all, we need to LISTEN.
In busy medical offices it is quite easy to put our agenda ahead of the patient’s agenda because there is so much information we need to get across to the patient or education we need to provide or treatment that needs to get done. However, if you take a minute in the beginning to find out what is on the patient’s mind and what his/her priorities are, you will find that it will be easier to achieve the medical goals.
The blessing of oncology work as opposed to other aspects of health care is that we get to establish long term relationships with our patients and their families. That is because most health care professionals who work in oncology have chosen to do so and that becomes evident to our patients as we see them time after time. Many of our patients feel they become part of our family and that feels very good to them and to us. It is at the beginning of the cancer journey that we as staff need to be deliberately conscious of our interactions with patients and to work hard to ease their way. It is a priceless gift we give to those with whom we work.
Kathy Allen, LSW, OSW-C
York Cancer Center
Kathy Allen, LSW, OSW-C is a licensed Masters level social worker with a certification in oncology. She worked with cancer patients and their families for 9 years at York Hospital and has been one of the two outpatient social workers at the York Cancer Center at Apple Hill for the last 10 years. Her job includes: individual and family counseling, grief counseling, facilitating support groups, developing and presenting educational programs on cancer related topics, advocating for patients and helping them to access various community agencies and resources to help them during their cancer journey.