Abstract: Climbing Everest: Oncology Work as an Expedition in Caring (Society for Social Work and Research 14th Annual Conference: Social Work Research: A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES)

102P Climbing Everest: Oncology Work as an Expedition in Caring

Saturday, January 16, 2010
* noted as presenting author
Elizabeth A. Rohan, PhD , Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Division of Cancer Prevention and Control, Roswell, GA
Jane Bausch, MSW , Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Clinical Social Worker, Breast Oncology Program, Boston, MA
Background and Purpose: Cancer has profound physical and psychosocial effects upon persons living with cancer and upon their families. Social workers, nurses, and oncologists each play a different but important role in helping cancer patients and their families bear the burden of the experience of this potentially life-threatening illness. As a result of the high level of emotional intensity involved in working with those who have cancer, social workers, nurses, and doctors may be at risk for experiencing deleterious effects from their work.

Method: This presentation derives its findings from the qualitative component of an exploratory, cross-sectional, mixed method study of 184 oncology social workers, physicians, and nurses that used quantitative and qualitative measures to further explore the experiences of oncology professionals. In-depth, semi-structured interviews were conducted with 21 clinicians, 7 from each profession. Interviews addressed clinicians' overall experiences of professional socialization, professional roles, teamwork, work stress, coping with the difficulty of oncology work; thoughts regarding the rewards of the work; and views about whether or not oncology work changed their worldview.

Results: Researchers used an expedition metaphor to understand oncology health care team members' experiences. An expedition and oncology work have in common a clear division of labor, the necessity of collaboration, intense work, significant obstacles, great rewards, and work that the world at large cannot tolerate undertaking. Furthermore, this study found that most oncology professionals interviewed did have traumatic responses to their work (significant obstacles); however, the traumatic response was transient and largely overshadowed by the great rewards of oncology work.

Conclusions and Implications: While there were many different experiences reported across the professions, surprisingly, the similarities reported were even more numerous. This finding was illuminating and underscores the multidisciplinary nature of oncology work in general and oncology social work in particular. Qualitative research is essential in understanding the experiences of oncology health professionals. Understanding the experiences of oncology health professionals, including how these clinicians make sense of their work and their work lives, is essential in attracting and retaining dedicated clinicians and in helping them mitigate the potential deleterious effects of their work, such as compassion fatigue. Additionally, the expedition metaphor itself is compelling; it highlights the breadth of experiences of oncology social workers, physicians, and nurses, particularly that successful multidisciplinary teamwork in itself ameliorates clinicians' experiences of compassion fatigue.

This research was partially supported by the American Cancer Society's Social Work Doctoral Dissertation Grant.