The Association of Oncology Social Work (AOSW) provides a definition for oncology social workers’ scope of practice, has established voluntary standards for practice, and serves as an educational resource. It defines oncology social work as providing “psychosocial services to patients, families, and significant others facing the impact of a potential or actual diagnosis of cancer,” such as “stress and symptom management, care planning, case management, system navigation, education and advocacy” (AOSW, 2001:1). Similarly, the Association of Pediatric Oncology Social Work (APOSW) is a membership organization for individuals engaged in clinical social work in the field of pediatric oncology. It promotes knowledge and skill competency in part though its continuing education programs. The Board of Oncology Social Work Certification additionally offers Oncology Social Work Certification (OSW-C) to individuals who have graduated from a CSWE accredited program; have 3 years of post-master’s degree work in oncology social work or a related field, such as palliative or end-of-life care; hold licensure in good standing and membership in AOSW or APOSW; have three professional statements of support; can show evidence of involvement in extramural service, education, or research activities; and have agreed to uphold AOSW Standards of Practice and NASW Code of Ethics. Certification renewal requires evidence of continued relevant work, licensure, and fulfillment of continuing education requirements.17 The American Cancer Society (ACS) awards students in MSW programs advanced training grants to provide psychosocial services to people with cancer and their families (ACS, 2006). Finally, nearly every jurisdiction requires continuing education courses for renewal of social work licenses, although these requirements vary from one jurisdiction to another, for example, in the number of hours or types of courses required (ASWB, 2006b).

Mental Health Providers

Psychosocial health services also are offered by licensed mental health providers, such as psychologists and counselors, who address psychological health as the primary purpose of their intervention. Because, as with psychiatrists, their services are by definition “psychological,” their education and training can reasonably be expected to address psychosocial health care. For these practitioners, as for psychiatrists and social workers, the issue is how well prepared they are to serve those with acute or chronic health problems (especially when these problems can be life-threatening) and how well they are prepared to carry out key psychosocial interventions, such as assessing social issues affecting the patient, coordinating care, and working with an interdisciplinary team.


Personal communication, Ginny Vaitones, Board of Oncology Social Work Certification, August 21, 2007.

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