Julianne S. Oktay and Bradley Zebrack
Oncology social work researchers have made (and continue to make) important contributions to the knowledge base that supports the profession. This article discusses the profession of oncology social work, its roots in medical social work in the United States, the development of cancer treatment, and the body of research that informs its art and practice. Oncology social work research is placed in the broader contexts of the social work profession, the field of oncology, and the specific field of oncology social work.
Through the decades, the profession of oncology social work has grown, gained stability and legitimacy. Oncology social work itself, along with oncology social work research, have made rapid strides in the 21st century and accelerating in impact and relevance. Oncology social work research is stronger now than ever. Recent developments, such as the addition of a research institute at the annual AOSW conference and initiatives to establish a “practice-based research network” are expanding capacity in the field.
Oncology social work researchers bring a unique perspective to their research. Social work’s patient-centered perspective is reflected in research that explores the cancer experience of patients and family members and leads to new interventions based on that experience. Social work’s focus on human development over the life course results in research that reflects a developmental framework or focuses on specific age groups, such as children, adolescents, young adults, or the elderly. Social work’s conceptual model of “Person-in-Environment” is reflected in research on cancer patients in the context of their interpersonal relationships. The values of social justice and cultural competence are reflected in research on health disparities, minority populations, and multicultural perspectives. Finally, the field of oncology social work itself has been the focus of recent research on distress screening and its implementation.
In the 21st century, oncology social work research stands in a pivotal position. Although this type of research is now widely recognized as important, it is still a challenge to access the level of support from major funders of cancer research required to establish and reinforce a strong and vibrant knowledge base for the profession.