Dealing with the pain, and rewards, of pediatric oncology social work

June 21, 2017 by Kathy Quirk, University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee
Stephanie Denzer (center) at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, where she worked in the outpatient pediatric oncology clinic to help children and families dealing with cancer. With her are Holli Johnson (left), a social worker who worked with Denzer on inpatient cases, and Denzer's supervisor, Kelli Passalacqua, who is also a UWM alum. Credit: Mayo Clinic photo/Gosha Weivoda

Stephanie Denzer, a May graduate of the Helen Bader School of Social Welfare, spent the spring semester doing an internship working with young cancer patients and their families at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Denzer worked at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin in community services for two years before coming to UWM to earn her master's degree. The American Cancer Society funded the competitive, for-credit, paid internship, which gives students a foundation in pediatric oncology medical social work.

How did you get this opportunity?

I'm specializing in medical social work, but I didn't know this placement existed. My field placement liaison, Roberta Hanus (clinical associate professor of social work), was actually the one who turned me on to the idea and encouraged me to apply. I'm interested in "peds," in working with children.

What did the internship involve?

I worked with a clinical social worker in the pediatric oncology outpatient unit. We saw patients and their families who had a new diagnosis or were continuing treatment to see what kinds of support they needed. Many times, families traveling from out of state, for example, were concerned about where they would stay and other financial things of that nature. Clinically, I was was able to participate in comprehensive assessments, therapeutic interventions, resource connection, grief and loss issues, and sibling support. Specifically, this included mental health screens and treatments, interventions and plans, relaxation techniques, crisis intervention and behavior modification support. We did a lot of one-on-one with a child about different things we could do to make the treatment process easier.

How were you involved with the medical staff?

We sat in a workroom with the doctors and nurses and were engulfed in the plan of care and the discussions and conversations. We also had a pediatric oncology social worker in the hospital—on the inpatient side—so we worked closely because we often shared patients. A patient who comes into the outpatient area might have to go inpatient to do chemotherapies or procedures. I had the opportunity to go back and forth and follow up with patients and their families, keep the rapport going and follow them along the way with questions they might have.

That must be very challenging work, dealing with children who have cancer and their families. That's not something parents expect to happen to them or their children.

It was challenging, and I learned a lot. I'm engaged at a deeper level than I was in the past. There were difficult cases and difficult aspects of being there, but I had really supportive co-workers and great supervisors, Holli Johnson and Kelli Passalacqua. Kelli is a graduate of UWM.

Were there rewards to go with those challenges?

I learned a lot about different resources available to families, and I also learned more about the clinical roles. I saw the whirlwind that a new diagnosis brings to the families, but I also experienced a few cases where a child was through treatment, things were looking good and they were in remission. That helped put the hard days in perspective.

What's next for you?

I would like to go into the pediatric social work field though I'm not sure where. I'm in the process of applying, but no firm offers yet. I enjoy the setting, although it is difficult.

Explore further: Intervention addresses pediatric patient families' social needs

Related Stories

Intervention addresses pediatric patient families' social needs

September 6, 2016
An intervention that paired caregivers with a navigator to help address the social needs of families of pediatric patients was associated with decreased needs reported by the families and improved overall child health status, ...

Experts establish standards for psychosocial care of children with cancer and their families

February 8, 2016
Children with cancer and their families often experience considerable psychological and social challenges during and after treatment. A special issue of Pediatric Blood & Cancer now offers evidence-based standards for pediatric ...

Social work students deliver 'extraordinary' help to families at pediatrician's office

June 17, 2016
It was one of the worst days ever experienced by the staff at Pediatric & Adolescent Health Partners in Midlothian. That morning, a young patient had died from an illness, and everyone was grieving. And in the evening, a ...

Almost one-third of families of children with cancer have unmet basic needs during treatment

September 23, 2015
Almost one-third of families whose children were being treated for cancer faced food, housing or energy insecurity and one-quarter lost more than 40 percent of household income, according to a new study from Dana-Farber/Boston ...

Yoga may help kids with cancer

January 4, 2017
A yoga program for children with cancer can be carried out even during cancer treatment, and has quality of life (QOL) benefits for the children as well as their parents, suggests a study in Rehabilitation Oncology, official ...

Recommended for you

Digital media use linked to behavioral problems in kids

July 17, 2018
Are children who spend lots of time using digital devices prone to psychiatric problems? A team of USC scientists says yes in a new study that appears today in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Childhood abuse linked to greater risk of endometriosis, study finds

July 17, 2018
Endometriosis, a painful condition that affects one in 10 reproductive-age women in the U.S., has been linked to childhood physical and sexual abuse, according to findings published today in the journal Human Reproduction.

Opioids given too easily to children: study

July 16, 2018
(HealthDay)—Many children are prescribed powerful opioid painkillers they don't really need, putting them and those around them at risk, a new study shows.

Self-control and obesity: Gender matters in children

July 16, 2018
A toddler's self-regulation—the ability to change behavior in different social situations—may predict whether he or she will be obese come kindergarten, but the connection appears to be much different for girls than for ...

Footwear habits influence child and adolescent motor skill development

July 11, 2018
New research finds that children and adolescents who spend most of their time barefoot develop motor skills differently from those who habitually wear shoes. Published in Frontiers in Pediatrics, this is the first study to ...

Parents who had severe trauma, stresses in childhood more likely to have kids with behavioral health problems

July 9, 2018
A new study finds that severe childhood trauma and stresses early in parents' lives are linked to higher rates of behavioral health problems in their own children.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.