Q&A w/ Alison Snow
Alison Snow, a licensed oncology clinical social worker at Mt. Sinai Hospital
who works with The Rema Hort Mann Foundation on its cancer grant program, talks about a day at the office, the power of denial and how to win a social worker award.
Does oncology social work have an uplifting side?
I help people every day.
What makes you down about it?
Insurance issues and financial problems. When I can't help a patient, I get frustrated.
What happened to you today?
Today's not a good example of a typical day.
I had a lengthy computer training workshop this morning.
We have a 36-bed inpatient unit. I met with several patients bedside and assessed their situations and where they are in terms of coping with their prognosis, hospitalization, and assessed their discharge needs. My job is mostly working with patients and their families, particularly those who are near the end of life and helping them to decide the next steps.
Is there camaraderie among all the social workers?
There are five oncology social workers. We all work very closely. We meet once a month as a group to talk about what's going on and there's a lot of cross coverage.
What prompted you to go into social work?
I was in my second year of graduate school and had an internship at Sloan-Kettering and really liked it. There is no personal story that brought me to work on behalf of cancer patients.
Wow. That's uncommon since cancer seems to impact everyone.
I know. I feel fortunate that it wasn't a personal experience.
Are hospitals full of human interest stories?
They can be. It's health care so it's life and death. You have people that are actively dying. If they are in denial, they can have strong reactions to their situations. And they're often not prepared for what happens.
How has it been dramatic for you?
We had a young woman on the floor for 10 months. Her parents were Holocaust survivors. Having been through that, they had a strong survival instinct and firmly believed in god. All the doctors and specialists told them there was nothing left that they could do; her daughter had no hope for quality of life and was going to die. Her mother told them that they weren't god, that she and her husband believed in miracles and had a lot of hope. They had already lost another daughter in a car accident. The day their daughter died, both parents became hysterical.
Do you stay friends with families beyond treatment?
I'm an inpatient worker. Once they are discharged, I don't usually see them after. I had a patient who was here for a clinical trial so he came to see me yesterday. Letters and emails occasionally. Also patients are frequently readmitted.
What improvements would you make to the field of social work?
I think it's important to understand that social workers need time to provide proper psycho-social support to patients and families especially in oncology; unfortunately, with the fast paced setting of the inpatient unit, providing this support is not always possible when discharge planning is a priority.
How do you decompress after a work day?
What's in store for you five years from now?
Possibly supervising or doing administrative work in oncology. I am also interested in getting a PhD.
You're in it for life, then.
Yes, I love what I do.
Congratulations on winning the Dr. Susan Blumenfield Award for Clinical Excellence.
Did Dr. Blumenfield have cancer?
No, she just retired as the former director of the Social Work Department here.
What did you do to get this award?
I was nominated by my supervisor and colleagues submitted letter of support for the nomination. A social work committee reviews the nomination and makes the decision. This year, it was nice that two social workers in oncology were recognized.
What do you think about the Foundation's En Route event on May 20?
Oh, I think it's fabulous! Adults in hospitals get ignored a lot of time; everything is usually given to kids so it's great that the Foundation is doing something that these patients will look forward to.