Summit Launches Program in Hungary

In November, NASW participated in a successful psychosocial oncology summit in Hungary. The meeting was an important initial step in addressing cancer care in the region, which, like many like other former Soviet Bloc countries of Eastern Europe, faces challenges in dealing with the growth of cancer.

NASW and CancerCare Inc. of New York City received a grant from the Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation (BMSF) to implement a project that addresses the best practices in psychosocial care and services for people with cancer in the U.S. and Hungary. CancerCare is a nonprofit agency providing emotional support, information and practical help to people with cancer, their family members and caregivers as well as professionals. The November summit, for which planning had begun in early 2008, brought together U.S. and Hungarian experts in psychosocial and medical oncology to exchange best practices between the two countries. NASW worked with Laszlo Patyan and other faculty at the College of Debrecen's Department of Social Work in Nyiregyhaza, Hungary, to coordinate the event.

The conference also served as an important step in NASW's Social Work Across Nation's (SWAN) goal of enhancing the social work profession in other countries, said NASW Executive Director Elizabeth J. Clark.

The meeting, by invitation only, was attended by 25 professionals and 15 social work students. A final summit report is being developed about the best practices exchange and imperatives for the group to work toward as a result of the exchange. The report will be disseminated throughout Hungary and made available to social workers in the U.S. The exchange will not only strengthen psychosocial oncology services in Hungary, but also in the U.S., as social workers serve immigrants from Eastern European countries.

NASW has also provided seed grants to six Hungarian psychosocial and health care professionals with proposals for ways to improve psychosocial care to people affected by cancer. Each professional is beginning to implement his or her proposal and NASW will receive progress updates from each grantee.

In the project's second year, NASW and CancerCare will work with College of Debrecen faculty and the summit planning committee members to develop a Web education course on psychosocial oncology training for social work professionals and others in Hungary. The upcoming course will be based on the existing NASW WebEd course, "Understanding Cancer: The Social Worker's Role." The existing course was translated into Hungarian, as a template for summit attendees to review and use as a model for developing a new course. Much of the information presented at the summit by Hungarian psychosocial professionals will be incorporated into the new course.

Hungary has some of the highest rates of death from cancer, noted Karyn Walsh, project manager. She facilitated and presented at the Hungary conference along with Katherine Walsh, a professor at Springfield College School of Social Work and past president of the Association of Oncology Social Work. Ellen Csikai, from the University of Alabama's Department of Social Work, was on the faculty at the College of Debrecen in 2008 as a Fulbright Scholar. She served as a liaison to help build relationships between Hungarian and U.S. colleagues to develop the summit and was also a participant. Floyd Allen, director of Men's Cancer Services for CancerCare, also presented at the conference.

The urgency for world leaders to focus more attention on quality cancer care made international headlines in recent months. The United Nations World Health Organization's Internal Agency for Research on Cancer issued an alarming report that estimated cancer is on pace to surpass heart disease as the No. 1 cause of death worldwide by 2010. The report stated that by 2030, 26.4 million people a year may be diagnosed with cancer, with 17 million people dying from it.

Hungary, like other former Soviet Bloc countries of Eastern Europe, has few skilled professionals trained to address the increasingly complex medical and psychosocial needs of people with the disease.

At the Hungary summit, attendees were informed about NASW's strategies to educate social workers about cancer care. Since social workers come into contact with clients who either have cancer or are affected by a loved one with cancer, NASW has developed educational tools to instruct the workforce about the disease.

NASW has partnered with CancerCare since 2004 to create two online courses to educate social workers and professionals about the physical and psychosocial effects of cancer and cancer caregiving. The course uses several NASW Standards of Practice that help guide social workers in their professional roles, Karyn Walsh said.

NASW, CancerCare, and the American Psychological Oncology Society teamed up in 2005 to create face-to-face trainings for social workers based on the online course and oncology psychosocial curriculum. In 2006, NASW and CancerCare trained 20 social workers to become trainers in the course, thus expanding the training to more than 400 social workers.

Walsh of Springfield College noted the historical perspective of psychosocial cancer care in her presentation at the Hungary summit. In the last 50 years, societal attitudes have shifted away from fatalism about cancer in the U.S., she explained. There has also been an increase in recognizing that effective cancer prevention and screening is dependent on changing behaviors, she said. She noted the history of advancements made in the treatment and prevention of cancer in the U.S. These efforts have led to a demand for highly skilled practitioners trained to provide multilevel assessment and intervention throughout the illness continuum, she said, and noted that many cancer survivors experience psychosocial distress. Social service and mental health professionals play an integral role in cancer survivorship care. For example, social workers assist cancer patients in navigating health care and insurance systems. Social workers may provide counseling, lead peer support groups or refer clients and families to community services, she noted.

SWAN is supported by NASW and the NASW Foundation. The group hosted a gathering of social workers interested in the international arena at NASW's national office in September. The Hungary summit is another step to further SWAN's goal of utilizing the skills of professionals not only in times of crisis but also in general relief and humanitarian work.