Online Course Addresses Cancer Care in Hungary

Karyn WalshKaryn Walsh, senior practice associate at NASW, was one of the facilitators of the course “Understanding Cancer in Hungary: The Social Worker’s Role.”

NASW has posted a new online course that will aid social workers and other health care professionals in Hungary with a better understanding of cancer and psychosocial counseling skills to help those with the illness.

The course, "Understanding Cancer in Hungary: The Social Worker's Role" is available in Hungarian and is based on the existing course, "Understanding Cancer: the Social Workers Role."

The new course is developed with information gathered from oncology psychosocial professionals and cancer survivors who participated at the 2008 psychosocial oncology summit in Hungary, noted Karyn Walsh, senior practice associate at NASW. She facilitated and presented at the conference with Katherine Walsh, professor at Springfield College School of Social Work in Massachusetts; Ellen Csikai, professor at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa; Floyd Allen, CancerCare Inc. of New York City; Laszlo Patyan, assistant professor at the University of Debrecen, Nyiregyhaza, Hungary.

NASW and CancerCare received a grant from the Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation to launch a best practices project in psychosocial care and services for people with cancer in the U.S. and Hungary. Together, they worked with the University of Debrecen to develop the course.

The collaboration aligns with NASW's Social Workers Across Nations, or SWAN, initiative to enhance the social work profession in other countries.

The project is vital considering Hungary has some of the highest rates of death from cancer. Skilled professionals trained to address the complex medical and psychosocial needs of people with the disease are in demand, Walsh explained. The World Health Organization's Internal Agency for Research on Cancer noted that cancer has surpassed heart disease as the No. 1 cause of death worldwide. WHO estimates that 84 million people will die of cancer between 2005 and 2015 without intervention.

The Hungary Web course aims to increase the knowledge and abilities of social workers and other psychosocial professionals by providing an overview of cancer and the dynamics of care for people with cancer and their loved ones in Hungary. It also seeks to enhance psychosocial counseling skills.

The course is divided into four lesson plans: basic information on cancer and care involved in Hungary; crisis points of cancer; psychosocial assessment and interventions; and a list of resources.

The outline starts with a brief history of the country and people in Hungary and its national health care system. It notes that since Hungary joined the European Union in 2004, it is striving to meet certain health standards and promote prevention and early cancer detection strategies.

Cancer is the second-leading cause of death in the country behind cardiovascular disease. People with cancer in Hungary have the highest death rates in Europe for lip, colorectal, larynx, trachea, bronchus and lung cancers.

Patients and families will usually be open to psychosocial help at times of crisis, the course notes. It says: "Cancer patients' emotional and practical needs vary from crisis to crisis such as hair loss, loss of day-to-day roles and functioning prior to diagnosis, illness from treatment and side effects, multiple doctor appointments or unexpected news."

In the lesson on psychosocial assessment and interventions, it points out that social workers and other psychosocial professionals gather pertinent biopsychosocial and spiritual information to complete a comprehensive assessment. The lesson offers counseling tips as well. One example explains ways to help the person with cancer understand that his or her reaction to the cancer experience is natural, and that other people with cancer have experienced similar thoughts and feelings.

This type of information is important, since cancer is still a taboo topic in Hungary and there is a stigma to having cancer and seeking help. The course explains that denial and hope are two common coping mechanisms for patients and families dealing with life-threatening illnesses like cancer, but it also points out that hope changes over time as situations and reality change.

There are course sections that explain different counseling options, education, bereavement and grief counseling, living with cancer, and helping the person with cancer, their loved ones, and psychosocial professionals themselves connect to resources to help meet needs.