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AOSW Oncology Social Work Standards of Practice

AOSW Standards of Practice in Oncology Social Work ©2012

Oncology social work is the primary professional discipline that provides psychosocial services to patients, families and significant others facing the impact of a potential or actual diagnosis of cancer. The scope of oncology social work includes clinical practice, education, advocacy, administration, policy, and research. The standards of practice provided in this document are intended for clinical social workers practicing in the specialty of oncology social work.

The Masters in Social Work degree provides oncology social workers with theoretical knowledge, clinical expertise and practical significant others. In addition, oncology social workers often receive specialized training in cancer care through clinical supervision, continuing education, in-service training, and on-the-job experience.

Psychosocial services provided by oncology social workers include individual, family and group counseling, education, advocacy, discharge planning, case management, patient-navigation and program development. These services are designed to maximize the patient's utilization of the health care system, foster coping, mobilize community resources in order to support optimal functioning, and empower the patient and family to be active participants in health care decisions and management.

Oncology social work services are available to patients and families throughout all phases of the cancer continuum, including prevention, diagnosis, treatment, survivorship, palliative care, end-of-life care, and bereavement. Services are delivered in a wide variety of settings including specialty cancer centers, community hospitals and health systems, ambulatory centers, home health and hospice programs, community-based agencies, and private practice settings.

Oncology social workers are an integral part of the health care team and contribute to the development and coordination of the overall treatment plan. In collaboration with the patient and family and other health care disciplines, oncology social workers provide counseling, education, discharge planning, case management and navigation, linking patients with a variety of services necessary to meet the person's multiple needs.

In addition to services to patients and families, oncology social workers address organizational and community needs through professional practice. Services are provided to institutions, voluntary health organizations, and community agencies with the overall aim of promoting health and safety, and improving the delivery of care to individuals at risk for or affected by cancer.

Oncology social workers embrace patient-and family-centered care at all levels of practice. Social work training and professional values are congruent with this approach at the clinical level, and position oncology social workers to substantially contribute the development of a health care environment that embodies the core concepts of patient-and family-centered care organizationally. This approach includes: respect for patients' values, preferences and expressed needs; coordinated and integrated culturally competent care; timely, affirming and useful information, communication and education; individualized care; physical comfort, emotional support, involvement of family and friends, shared decision-making and collaboration with patients and families in the evaluation, planning and delivery of care.

Standards of Practice


Oncology social workers shall be knowledgeable about oncologic diseases and their treatments, psychosocial implications for individuals and families, appropriate interventions and available community and governmental resources. Oncology social workers must have knowledge of the usual course of cancer and its treatment, including genetics, so that patients and families can be helped to anticipate and deal with changes in individual and family life.

The oncology social worker shall be masters prepared from a graduate program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. It is preferred that the graduate have had prior employment or field placement experience in a health care setting.


Oncology social work programs shall provide the following clinical and programmatic services:

B. Completion of a psychosocial assessment of the patient and family's response to the cancer diagnosis and treatment to include:

2. Knowledge about cancer and its treatment including level of understanding, reactions, goals for care and expectations.

3. Characteristics of the patient's support system, including family, related biologically, legally, or emotionally.

4. Patient and family psychosocial functioning including strengths, limitations and coping skills.

5. Race, ethnicity, religion, culture, language, physical or mental disability, socioeconomic status, sex sexual orientation, and gender identity or expression.

6. Identification of barriers to care.

7. The source, availability, and adequacy of community resources.

8. Patient and family level of interest in participation in care and decision-making.

9. Development of a case plan with patient and family based on mutually agreed upon goals to enhance, maintain and promote optimal psychosocial functioning throughout cancer treatment and its outcome.

C. Utilization of a wide range of clinical interventions designed to address current and/or future problems as the patient's medical and psychosocial needs evolve.

D. Outreach activities to vulnerable populations.

E. Maintenance of knowledge of community resources and governmental programs available from local, state, and national health and social service agencies including expertise in accessing these for patients and families.

F. Organization and facilitation of patient and family education.

G. Utilization of knowledge and clinical skills in assisting the patient and family with advance care planning and advance directives.

H. Pro-active provision of services to at-risk populations, including assistance with negotiating barriers to cancer information, screening, treatment and resources within the institution and in the community.

I. Collaboration with patients and family members who serve as advisors in policy and program development, implementation and evaluation; health care facility design; professional education, and the delivery of care.

J. Collaboration with other professional disciplines in the planning and provision of timely and efficient clinical services to cancer patients and their families.

K. Advocacy for and protection of patients' dignity, confidentiality, rights, and access to care.

L. Development and utilization of research to improve clinical practice and implement evidence-based psychosocial support programs, services and interventions.


Oncology social work programs shall address institutional and agency needs including the following:

B. Collaboration with other disciplines and staff in the areas of psychosocial clinical services, patient-and family-centered care, research and education.

C. Provision of services to professional caregivers which are designed to assist staff in the management of stresses inherent in clinical practice.

D. Utilization of clinical documentation, statistical reporting, and evaluation to improve services, assure quality and develop programs.

E. The advancement of the practice of patient-and family-centered care at the clinical and organizational levels.

F. Representation on Cancer Care and other related hospital committees.


Oncology social work programs shall address community needs including the following:

B. Provision of services to at-risk populations, including navigation assistance with access to cancer information, screening, treatment and resources.

C. Provision of consultation and volunteer services to institutions, voluntary health organizations and community agencies to promote health, provide education, and develop programs to better serve the community.


Oncology social work programs shall address the following needs of the profession and its practitioners:

B. Commitment to continuing professional education.

C. Promotion of professional practice in accord with the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Code of Ethics.

D. Participation in student and professional training and education in the area of oncology social work.

E. Contribution to oncology social work through participation in professional associations.

F. Contribution to oncology social work knowledge base through psychosocial research, publications, presentations and evidence-based practice.

G. Pro-active provision of patient navigation services to at-risk populations, including assistance.

H. Collaboration with other professional disciplines in the planning and provision of timely and efficient clinical services to cancer patients and their families.

I. Development of research based knowledge that relates to clinical issues, interventions and outcomes.