As part of our #31DaysofSW campaign this month to recognize the contributions of social workers, we interviewed Elizabeth (Betsy) Clark, PhD, MSW, MPH, president of Start Smart Career Center and past CEO of the National Association of Social Workers.
Q: Why did you choose to work with people impacted by cancer?
A: When I was a student at the University of Pittsburgh's School of Social Work, I was fortunate enough to meet Professor Eleanor Cockerill. She was retiring and was looking for someone to carry on her pioneering work in oncology social work. I spent hours talking with her. She was amazing, dedicated, and inspirational. She encouraged me to accept a field placement at a hematology unit at a university hospital. Despite the high mortality rate of patients with leukemia at that time, the work was challenging, meaningful, and very rewarding. That experience set the framework for the rest of my career. Forty years later, as Vice Chair of the Board of Directors of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, I find myself still representing oncology social work and working on behalf of individuals living with blood cancers.
Q: What is the most important thing you’ve learned from being a social worker?
A: The most important thing I have learned as an oncology social worker is that hope can never be false. Patients living with cancer taught me that hope is defined and used differently by each individual. I also learned that hope changes as situations and circumstances change, but regardless of the stage or seriousness of the disease, there is always something to hope for. As oncology social workers, we must move beyond basic therapeutic hope and accept all visions of hope presented by the our patients and their families. Further, as professional social workers, we have an obligation to provide a community of hope in our organizations and agencies.
Q: What would you say to people who underestimate the value of social work?
A: For many decades, social workers have provided the safety net for our society. Our social work values of inclusivity, self-determination, advocacy, and social justice have never wavered. We work on behalf of people who are marginalized, oppressed, and devalued. We work to bring about positive social change, and we work with individuals who are facing daunting life challenges. Social workers are resolute and resilient. We never give up and we don't give in. If the profession of social work were to cease to exist, the world would be a much less hospitable place. I think social work is the last best profession, and those of us who are social workers are so very lucky to be part of it.
Stay tuned to the CSC blog this month for more #31DaysofSW features, and check out our social worker tributes on Twitter at @CancerSupportCm!