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Foreword by Betty R. Ferrell 

Foreword by Betty R. Ferrell
Source:
Oxford Textbook of Palliative Social Work

I began my career-long admiration of social workers with the start of my nursing career on an oncology unit. My initial years in oncology as a new graduate were in many ways best described as total chaos. Patients were very ill and the evolving field of oncology was struggling to develop use of chemotherapy, radiation therapy and to develop both inpatient and outpatient services.

Aggressive surgical techniques included drastic surgeries for patients such as radical mastectomies, incredibly invasive head and neck surgeries amid a care system that was ill prepared to manage the tremendous physical and psychological burdens on patients and families resulting from this emerging field of care.

In the midst of this chaotic and overwhelming world of oncology I was introduced to social work. These professionals were quite simply the calm in the storm. The oncology social workers were tranquil yet strong patient advocates; they were focused on the person and family surrounding the tumor and in many ways the social workers represented a solid anchor and in a clear sense of humanity in an environment otherwise void of such qualities.

From those early years, I learned a key lesson for survival as a nurse: Stay close to the social workers. I also learned that these social workers were equally attentive to nurses and other staff and that their influence extended to the broader systems of care. I observed that the common nursing or medical response amidst a crisis (a dying patient, an angry spouse, a dysfunctional family) was generally, “Has anyone called the social worker”?

In my own professional career journey to focus on palliative care, I have remained impressed by my social work colleagues. I don't fully understand the professional preparation or the culture of social work but I do know that their presence offers a consistent focus on patient and family needs, and is the embodiment of advocacy and a passion for whole person care. Social workers are often the conscience of an organization, the moral voice and the advocates for justice and compassion amidst an ever burdened system of care.

The field of palliative social work has emerged parallel to palliative nursing. It has been my privilege to witness the development of palliative social work, largely by observing the enormous commitment and passion of the two editors of this textbook, pioneers Shirley Otis-Green and Terry Altilio. My own passion and commitment has been inspired by observing their tireless efforts to advance palliative social work.

In 2001 my colleague Nessa Coyle and I published the first edition of the Textbook of Palliative Nursing. I realized then the importance of a book for a field. Far beyond a collection of chapters, a major Textbook represents the collective wisdom of a field; it sets the standard of what excellent care should look like and it holds all its members to a higher plane of practice.

Terry Altilio and Shirley Otis-Green have made a major professional contribution in the publication of this book. It is a work of art, quite fitting for the profession of social work, which is indeed a science and an art. The breadth and depth of content in this Textbook are monumental. They have defined the field and in doing so, there is no turning back.

Betty R. Ferrell, PhD, MA, FAAN, FPCN

Research Scientist

City of Hope Medical Center

Duarte, CA

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