For clinical social workers Annette Quinn, MSW, LICSW, and Sara Nemitz, MSW, LICSW, each day is unique.
Part of Dana-Farber’s department of Psychosocial Oncology and Palliative Care, Quinn and Nemitz work closely with patients and their families to provide support during treatment, addressing the new anxieties and concerns many patients face after a cancer diagnosis.
“Understanding patients’ life circumstances is an integral part of oncology care,” says Nemitz, part of the social work team at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Brighton, Mass. “Social workers can help articulate each patient’s unique priorities, coping abilities, and support options so their treatment plans can be tailored accordingly.”
Social workers often lead support groups for patients – determined by diagnoses or age group – and provide individual support to patients and their loved ones on a range of issues. These may include:
- Depression and anxiety
- Distress about treatment
- The impact of cancer on family and caregivers
- Concerns about drug and alcohol use
- Discussing cancer with children
- Coping with advanced cancer and facing uncertainty
- Cancer’s impact on work, school, and finances
“Being part of a patient’s journey at a vulnerable time in their life is a unique privilege. We support patients and families through the multiple changes that a cancer diagnosis brings” says Quinn, who provides care to gynecologic cancer patients seen at Dana-Farber’s Boston campus.
On a typical day, Quinn sees patients in private consult rooms, or while they are receiving chemotherapy infusion. Her job is to offer counseling to patients, family members, and loved ones, with a focus on the adjustments and challenges that accompany a cancer diagnosis.
Quinn collaborates closely with a multidisciplinary team including oncologists, nurse practitioners, infusion and program nurses, psychiatrists, palliative care providers, and resource specialists. While some patients request appointments with social workers, Quinn explains that many are also referred through their care team.
For Nemitz and the St. Elizabeth’s team, each day starts with a “huddle” to review patient progress and care plans. Throughout the day, Nemitz sits with patients and their caregivers to explore the impact cancer has on their lives, and to counsel them around self-care strategies to encourage wellness. She also advocates for patients’ quality of life and safety needs with the rest of their care team.
Nemitz recalls the story of a multiple myeloma patient with whom she recently followed up. The patient had just returned from a two-week trip to his native country in South America. He had not been home in decades, and for a time did not think he ever would again. He was thrilled to visit with his family, reconnect with friends, and swim daily.
“Bearing witness to patients who set and accomplish goals of this magnitude is both humbling and a complete privilege,” Nemitz reflects.
If you are a Dana-Farber patient interested in seeing a social worker, please call 617-632-3301, or request a referral with your care team.