Rachel Travell, Social Worker

Meet Rachel Travell, Social Worker at Michael Garron Hospital

Tell us about yourself!

My name is Rachel Travell and I am a Social Worker in the Outpatient Oncology Clinic. I have been working at Michael Garron Hospital (MGH) for over four years now.

What motivated you to join MGH?

I started my career at MGH as a Master of Social Work student in the Cardiac Integrated Unit. During my eight-month student placement, I was particularly taken by MGH’s collaborative culture. Regardless of your title, everyone had a valued role in providing optimal patient care. I always felt like I had a voice in advocating for the patient.

Social workers utilize the person-in-environment perspective to guide our practice. We seek to understand the environment in which an individual is situated, such as the people around them and the community they live in, to intervene effectively. I was encouraged when I witnessed MGH embrace this perspective.

I have participated in patient rounds and family meetings where community care partners, agencies and informal caregivers of the patient were all invited to the circle of care. This was really encouraging to see that MGH values having the patient’s community at the table.

The marriage of hospital and community here was one of many reasons I was eager to start my social work career at MGH.

What types of learning, mentorship or professional development opportunities have you had the opportunity to pursue since joining MGH?

I completed my Master of Social Work degree with a specialization in Gerontology. While this degree made me well-equipped to support the older adult population, I had an opportunity to further my learning when I accepted the Oncology Social Worker position at MGH.

Through the hospital’s Tuition Assistance Program, I was able to enrich my learning and become certified in Interprofessional Psychosocial Oncology and Interprofessional Education in Palliative and End-of-Life Care.

MGH also supported my training in the Managing Cancer and Living Meaningfully (CALM) modality, as well as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).

I have attended education conferences about palliative care and young adult cancer care, as well as learned more about the legal and economic systems that our patients interact with. These opportunities enable me to incorporate evidence-based interventions into my practice.

I have had the opportunity to participate in a number of quality improvement projects. Most notably, as a result of a generous donation, I was able to work with leaders in the Oncology Clinic and the Michael Garron Hospital Foundation to establish a financial assistance fund for MGH patients with a cancer diagnosis.

The trajectory of my social work career at MGH would look very different if not for the mentorship of my social work colleagues here. Many of their decades-long careers have unfolded at MGH, which makes them an invaluable resource for clinical consultation, peer support and professional development.

Can you share your career path at MGH?

2017: I began my Master of Social Work (MSW) student placement in the Cardiac Integrated Unit. I was eager to supplement my learning about the complex biopsychosocial needs of older adults.

2018: After completing my MSW, I formally joined MGH as a Transition Navigator in the Cardiac Integrated Unit. I conducted comprehensive assessments of complex and vulnerable patients to facilitate a discharge plan back to the community.

2019 to present: I now work as an Oncology Social Worker in the Outpatient Oncology Clinic where I support patients and families as they cope with a cancer diagnosis and treatment. As part of this position, I also took on the role of MGH’s Psychosocial Oncology Program Lead.

2021 to present: I am also an Adjunct Lecturer in the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work (FIFSW) at the University of Toronto. I provide field education to MSW students and have engaged in research with the FIFSW.

What motivates OR inspires you?

In my role as an Oncology Social Worker, I help patients, families, and caregivers deal with the experience of facing cancer.

There is an assumption that work in cancer care is bleak. However, bearing witness to the resilience and capacity of the human spirit in the face of critical illness has given my career renewed purpose.

I have been moved by the strength of a young mother who was going through a marital separation while coping with advanced disease.

I was inspired by the forgiveness of a son who put his life on hold to provide end-of-life care for his mother, with whom he was only recently reunited.

I was touched by the perspective of a patient who shared her gratitude for her cancer diagnosis which helped her reconnect with her children.

I take great pride in creating a safe space for patients, families and their caregivers as they make sense of this significant time in their lives.

If you could share one memorable moment from your time at MGH, what stands out to you?

I experienced a newfound appreciation for MGH when my family and I were on the receiving end of patient care.

I didn’t trust any hospital other than MGH when my mother was facing a cardiac crisis.

My parents and I were a bundle of nerves on the day of the procedure. We were greeted with warmth at every checkpoint before the procedure, which did wonders to quell our concerns.

My dad and I were uneasy about parting ways with my mom as she entered the procedure room, but I knew she was in good hands.

To distract my dad from the flurry of worries, I suggested we go to the cafeteria for a calming cup of coffee. On our way there, my dad and I were greeted with “good morning” and “have a great day” from a number of MGH staff who were not known to me personally.

The frequency of these small, but kind gestures, spoke volumes for how we treat all those who walk through our doors.

On the other side of the gurney, my mother’s perspective was equally positive. The care and compassion provided by the cardiac team was exemplary. She wanted all her cardiac care transferred to MGH after this life-changing experience.

When the dust settled on the procedure and we were getting ready to take my mom home, I fondly remember my parents remarking what a great hospital MGH is and how proud they are that I work here.

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