Cancer Care Competency Urged

The demand for cancer care in the near future will far outpace the workforce trained to help people with the disease, experts say.

NASW is joining the campaign to address this problem by encouraging non-oncology social workers and social work students to strengthen their core understanding of cancer.

The association is taking part in the C-Change Cancer Core Competency Initiative. The goal is not to duplicate efforts by oncology professional organizations, but to strengthen the cancer knowledge and skills of the non-oncology health workforce.

NASW is a member of C-Change, a coalition working to leverage the expertise and resources of its membership to eliminate cancer as a public health problem.

NASW recently devoted one of its Lunchtime Teleconference Series courses to the issue. “Strengthening the Cancer Knowledge and Skills of the Social Work Labor Force” was led by Maureen Lichtveld, professor and chair of the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, and Alison Smith, director of Cancer Research at C-Change.

The course, which is free for NASW members and offers one CEU upon successful completion of an online test, describes a competency-based strategy to strengthen the knowledge and skills of non-oncology social work students and practicing professionals to expand the cancer workforce.

Smith noted that while there are shortages in the workforce, organizations such as NASW are doing their part to address discipline and specialty specific challenges in cancer.

NASW Executive Director Elizabeth J. Clark noted that cancer is expected to be the No. 1 killer in the future.

“Every one of us is touched by cancer in some way and I don’t really believe that social workers will be able to practice adequately in the future if they don’t have a basic understanding of cancer,” she said.

NASW also offers a WebEd course called “Understanding Cancer: The Social Worker’s Role” available for 2 CEUs upon successful completion of an online test.

The nation’s ability to fight cancer depends on the health of the cancer workforce, according to C-Change leaders. Nearly all of the professional disciplines that play a role in the delivery of comprehensive cancer services are experiencing a shortage. In addition to social workers, this includes physicians, nurses, pharmacists, public health workers, researchers/scientists, technologists and cancer registrars.

According to C-Change:

  • Demand for oncologists is expected to exceed supply by 25 percent-30 percent by 2020 (ASCO, 2007).
  • The social work labor force is older than most professions, with nearly 30 percent of licensed social workers over age 55 (NASW, 2006).
  • By 2020, the projected gap between supply and demand for RNs will be 340,000 (three times larger than ever experienced in the U.S.).
  • By 2020, more RNs will be in their 60s than in their 20s (Auerbach & Buerhaus & Staiger, 2007).
  • The average age of a public health worker is 47; many public health agencies face a 20 percent vacancy rate (APHA, 2008).
  • Cancer registrar vacancies remain difficult to fill in some regions of the country and demand for registrars is estimated to grow 10 percent in the next 15 years (NCRA, 2006).

Besides NASW’s Lunchtime Series teleconference and the WebEd course on cancer, non-cancer health professionals can get more support by requesting a toolkit that offers a step-by-step approach to understanding cancer at the C-Change Web site devoted to the initiative: [site no longer exists]. See A Competency-Based Approach To Expanding the Cancer Care Workforce: Proof of Concept (PDF).

The toolkit addresses both the strategic and practical aspects of the program development process. It also provides users with resources, case studies and templates along the cancer care continuum.