5 Job Duties of an Oncology Social Worker

An oncology social worker is a health care professional who provides psychosocial services to patients, families and others who are facing the impacts of potential or actual cancer diagnoses. Here are their five major employment responsibilities.


Social workers in oncology wards will provide psychosocial assessments and treatment to patients and their families related to illness adjustment, coping mechanisms and discharge planning. They use their training to provide age, cultural and spiritual specific care to their clients. They obtain this knowledge to identify each patient's unique treatment, self-management and discharge planning needs. The comprehensive psychosocial assessments that they perform ensure that pediatric, adult and elderly patients receive age-specific services. They use psychiatric assessments to formulate accurate diagnostic impressions that are used to facilitate treatment and discharge plans. They act as patient advocates by recommending resources for patient's needs, such as social support and financial assistance.

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These social workers maintain effective communications with health care providers related to the patient's psychosocial and psychiatric needs. They maintain positive working relationships with all hospital departments and management to provide optimal patient care. They maintain a clear understanding and adherence to designated oncology policies and procedures. They work with physicians, oncology nurses and treatment teams to develop and deliver the patient's plan of care. They promote patient and family education to ensure best treatment outcomes are achieved. They maintain the necessary documents for licensed clinical social workers' scope of practice. They also provide clinical information for placement referrals to outside agencies.

Discharge Planning

One of their main duties is discharge planning. They provide relative information and referral services to patients, caretakers and families related to community resources and state agencies. They manage a case load of independent patients, which requires constant follow-up and communication with external clients. They stay up to date with knowledge of the current eligibility criteria for a wide range of community services and resources. These social workers build positive working relationships with community agencies and initiate contact with private, county and state resources to facilitate discharges that require less restrictive levels of care. They develop customized discharge plans for patients with special needs.


Social workers provide clear, concise, accurate and timely documentation in patient's electronic medical records according to departmental policies and state regulations. They must maintain clear and consistent documentation of their daily assessments of patient care in order to help physicians provide proper medical care. They must document a variety of activities, such as the initial psychosocial assessment, the proposed care plan, all collateral contracts, insurance reviews and discharge planning efforts. They must ensure the confidentiality and secured storage of all privileged communication with patients and families. Oncology social workers must follow Clinical Social Work Practice documentation guidelines.

Program Support

Social workers in oncology departments are members of patient care units who perform case management duties, which includes utilization review, quality improvement and community resource development activities. They participate in departmental, committee and community meetings. Senior social workers will develop and evaluate patient care policies and procedures. They will also coordinate resources and develop collaborative service relationships with similar oncology departments in other hospitals. They provide psychosocial education and perspectives to subordinate health care providers and interdisciplinary team members. They interpret and provide analysis to treatment leaders on how relative laws and regulations affect discharge planning and proposed treatments.

Oncology social workers will need a master's degree from an accredited school of social work and a current licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) license. Anyone who wants to become an oncology social worker can learn more at the Association of Oncology Social Work's (AOSW) website.