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Each year, we celebrate and acknowledge the impact of social workers globally for World Social Work Day. This year, the annual day falls on 16 March and, to mark the occasion, we sat down with Cancer Council SA Social Worker Heidi Punch to find out a little more about what it means to be a social worker supporting South Australians impacted by cancer, every day.

Heidi has been primarily working within the disability sector for the past four-five years and has worked as a case manager for children and youth in respite care and then proceeded to work as a disability support worker—all while completing her Master of Social Work. Her first role as a qualified Social Worker was working with Brain Injury SA clients who were abused, neglected or had been discriminated against, however she wanted to utilise more of her clinical skills, so decided to jump at the opportunity to apply for the social worker role at Cancer Council SA in 2020.

Q: Can you give a little background about what drew you to social work and why you do what you do?

A: I began my undergraduate studies in Occupational Therapy, however, I soon realised that I had a much greater interest in the psychosocial factors and social policies that impact people on a daily basis, rather than physical rehabilitation.

Q: When did you start at Cancer Council SA? How are you finding the role so far?

A: I started my role at the beginning of December 2020. I am thoroughly enjoying the role so far, no two days are ever the same. I love meeting with guests and being able to make their stay as comfortable as possible.

Q: For you, what is the most challenging thing about being a social worker?

A: Knowing when to switch off! When engaging with people that entrust you with some of their most delicate matters, it is instinct to want to help them as much as you can and be innovative with interventions or practical assistance. Therefore, this work tends to follow me home. However, it is an important skill I am practicing to ensure I am working to my potential during work hours.

Q: Similarly, what is the most rewarding this about being a social worker? (as above)

A: The most rewarding feeling is when people provide you with the trust to be able to assist them in a critical time, and then seeing the relief on their face knowing they aren’t alone on their journey.

Q: If you’re able to, can you share some of the common themes/issues you deal with/help people with through your role at Cancer Council SA?

A: There are so many! So, I will keep it to a few. The Patient Accommodation and Transport Scheme (PATS) is something I assist guests with on a very regular basis. Anything from providing education, liaising with the hospital or PATS office to ensure the guests are covered as much as possible and don’t end up in financial distress. Other common duty is communicating with the hospital staff on the guest’s behalf. Understandably, guests can be very overwhelmed with all the medical jargon and hospital processes, so at times my role is being the middle man to assist with treatment running smoothly and guests are fully informed of their care.

Finally, referrals to other providers or professionals, particularly to hospital social workers, financial aid and our counsellors here at CCSA.

Q: How important do you think the role of a social worker is for an organisation like Cancer Council SA that works with people affected by cancer daily and so closely?

A: I have quickly learnt that the role of a social worker for Cancer council SA is paramount. Whether it is practical or emotional support, majority of guests will need some form of support to go through their unique journey. Social workers are essentially ‘the glue’ in the health system to ensure the system and patients are connected as much as possible.

Whilst I have only been here for a short time, I have been amazed at the amount of thanks and feedback saying that some guests would be lost or wouldn’t be able to cope without the assistance of social workers at the lodge.

Q: How do you provide your support?

A: I have always preferred face-to-face, unless the guest has specified otherwise. Seeing people face-to-face certainly builds a trustworthy rapport as well as putting a face to a name when in passing around the lodge.

Q: If anyone is visiting the Lodges at any time, would you encourage them to check in with you and have a chat? Why? What could they gain from it?

A: Yes, absolutely. Particularly guests that are staying on their own or for an extended stay.  Most guests are already so far from home and going through a difficult time, so knowing that there is support to reach out to here at the lodge prevents guests from reaching crisis.

To find out more about the services and support available through the Cancer Council SA Lodges, visit