Everything to Know About Oncology Social Workers

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When someone is diagnosed with cancer, the focus is usually on finding the most successful treatment options. But there’s more to dealing with cancer than medical therapies and procedures. Cancer may affect a person emotionally, socially, and financially, too. That’s when oncology social workers can help.

Oncology social workers are skilled professionals who provide emotional, psychological, social, and practical support for cancer patients. They help patients navigate different resources and unpack useful information. These experts address the patient as a whole, instead of only focusing on medical treatment.

This article discusses the role of oncology social workers as advocates for people with cancer.

Hospital social worker for cancer patient

SDI Productions / Getty Images

What Do Oncology Social Workers Do?

Oncology social workers perform a wide range of services, some of which include:

  • Providing information to patients about their disease
  • Helping patients explain their cancer diagnosis to family and friends
  • Performing counseling services
  • Leading or recommending support groups
  • Acting as a mediator for patient/caregiver disputes
  • Offering resources for financial assistance
  • Explaining medical insurance coverage
  • Helping patients find transportation to healthcare appointments
  • Teaching patients how to perform relaxation and coping strategies

Oncology Social Workers and Research

Oncology social workers are becoming more involved in research, including leading research studies designed to improve patients' quality of life.   

Managing Practical Concerns

Oncology social workers can help cancer patients sort out different practical or logistical issues. These professionals are trained to effectively explain a cancer diagnosis and treatments to patients and their family members.

Additionally, they may help patients pay their bills, understand their insurance coverage, or find resources for financial assistance. Sometimes, this involves showing patients how to fill out the necessary paperwork or requesting coverage information from insurance companies.

Oncology social workers can also help patients secure home care services, transportation, and childcare.  

Providing Emotional Support

A cancer diagnosis can be psychologically challenging. An oncology social worker helps patients with their emotional needs. They can arrange hospice services (comfort care for patients at the end of life) or provide support for patients who are transitioning to survivorship (care after diagnosis and treatment).

Counseling is one tool social workers use to help patients cope with their stress and anxiety. A counseling session provides a safe space for patients to talk about worries and concerns. Social workers may also teach patients relaxation strategies, such as deep breathing, to help them manage their emotions.

Sometimes, social workers will suggest support groups, so patients can connect with others who are also affected by cancer.   

How to Get Help From an Oncology Social Worker

Cancer patients who are interested in working with an oncology social worker might want to first ask their healthcare provider for a recommendation. Many nursing homes or hospice facilities have social workers on staff.

Some resources for finding an oncology social worker include:

Virtual vs. In-Person Oncology Social Workers

Oncology social workers are available both online or via face-to-face appointments. Your decision will depend on your level of comfort with in-person contact.

How to Become an Oncology Social Worker

Becoming an oncology social worker involves fulfilling many different requirements, which can vary from state to state.

In general, someone who wants to become an oncology social worker might expect to complete the following steps:

  • Earn a bachelor’s degree
  • Earn a master’s degree in social work (specializing in oncology)
  • Complete field work requirements (the number of hours required differs by state)
  • Get a state license

Additionally, some universities and programs offer optional certifications that can be added to an individual’s credentials.


Oncology social workers help patients deal with both the practical and emotional side of cancer care. This professional can provide much-needed support for patients and their families.

Oncology social workers earn advanced education degrees and participate in real-life field work before they can practice their trade. Working with an oncology social worker may help improve the quality of life for people with cancer.

A Word From Verywell

Being diagnosed with cancer can be devastating. To help you cope, you may benefit from working with an oncology social worker. This expert can advocate for better care, provide necessary resources, and make sure your emotional needs are met. Ask your healthcare provider if you’re interested in adding an oncology social worker to your medical care team.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is OSW certification?

    An OSW (oncology social work) certification is a type of accreditation for oncology social workers. It signifies an advanced level of expertise and dedication in the field.

  • What does a pediatric oncology social worker do?

    Pediatric oncology social workers work with children who have been diagnosed with cancer. They provide support and resources for kids and their families.

  • How do I become an oncology social worker?

    Specific credentials are required to become an oncology social worker. You can learn more about the prerequisites here.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Society of Clinical Oncology. Spotlight on oncology social workers.

  2. Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. How can social workers help cancer patients?.

  3. CancerCare. The value of oncology social workers.

  4. Social Work License Map. How to become an oncology social worker.

  5. Association of Oncology Social Work. OSW-C certification.