The influence of age expectations on the emotion and clinical judgment of social work practitioners in an oncology setting
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This study examined the impact of oncology social workers’ expectations regarding aging and expectations regarding aging with cancer on their emotion and clinical judgment using path analysis. The data was collected via an on-line survey distributed through the Association of Oncology Social Workers’ listserv. Participants were randomly assigned one of four vignettes that described a patient diagnosed with lung cancer. The vignettes differed by the age (78 or 38) and gender (female or male) of the patient, while the content remained the same. Oncology social workers’ expectations regarding aging were measured to provide an understanding of their beliefs about the aging process with respect to physical health, mental health, end-of-life, and cancer and mental health. These responses were utilized to predict oncology social workers’ clinical judgment during three judgment phases, i.e. anticipatory, diagnostic and treatment. Emotion was evaluated as a possible indirect effect between expectations regarding aging and clinical judgment. Age differences across gender were examined. Overall, the research supported the hypothesis that practitioners’ expectations regarding aging and expectations regarding aging with cancer influence their emotion and clinical judgment. However, the results suggest a disconnection between diagnosis and treatment judgment. Though practitioners were able to diagnose depression and prioritize it highly, the prioritization of treatment for this depression was very low. Moreover, this research suggests that “preparation for end-of-life” and “mental health with cancer” are viable components of the “expectations regarding aging” construct. The results of this study have implications for social work education, practice, policy and research.