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Marla Knoll


Marla Knoll, Social Worker, Pediatric Hematology/Oncology at Mattel Children's Hospital UCLAMarla Knoll, Social Worker, Pediatric Hematology/Oncology at Mattel Children's Hospital UCLA

Helping patients and families cope with illness through compassion

Knoll provides emotional support and resources to our pediatric cancer patients and their families.

What is your job at UCLA?
I am one of two clinical social workers who work with pediatric hematology oncology patients at Mattel Children's Hospital UCLA. In addition to providing emotional support and crisis intervention, I attempt to connect families with resources and information that will assist them in coping with a new diagnosis. From issues such as school, work, transportation, benefits and housing, clinic social workers help families deal with life issues that affect their experience with illness. I am also one of the on-call consultants for UCLA's Suspected Child Abuse and Neglect (SCAN) team, which is a multidisciplinary team that consults with staff regarding potential issues of child abuse and neglect.

What interested you about social work - particularly with children?
A career in social work allows me to work directly with patients and their families by providing resources, information and emotional support. The illness of a family member - particularly a child - can create difficult times for any family. From the time of diagnosis when I first meet the families, I try to support the parent as an active member of their child's healthcare team.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?
I am able to walk the entire road from diagnosis, through treatment, and then into long-term follow-up care with these patients. They allow me to get to know them, see into their lives and share their experiences. Our patients and families have taught me about courage and strength. Whether the end of their story is happy or sad, being part of their journey is an honor.

What is the most challenging part of your job?
The most challenging part is when problems cannot be solved. When I work with families, one important part of my job is to help them remove the barriers that can keep them from taking good care of their children. Too often, it is a challenge to help a family find enough supportive resources to help them succeed. And it is always a challenge when the end of a child's life is near. Knowing how to be helpful when a parent faces the death of a child is one situation that will always be a challenge for me.

What is it like to work with pediatric patients who have cancer?
Working with pediatric cancer patients is a pleasure. They are some of the bravest and most hopeful people I know. It is the children who are often the strength and source of hope for the family. As they gain trust in our team, they become partners in their care and show great maturity. I have seen some of the children support other patients through their illnesses by being a mentor and a friend. I have watched teenagers assume responsibility for their care and recovery and younger children teach others about cancer.

Who do you work with in your team?
Our team includes physicians, nurse practitioners and clinical nurse specialists, child life specialists, research and administrative staff. We partner with many other healthcare professionals in the hospital and clinic to care for these special patients. One example of staff working together is the Teen Adventure Program (TAP). With the leadership of our clinical nurse specialist, Margie Weiman, Dr. Noah Federman, our child life specialists, Adina Bodolay and Hilary Gan, my colleague Wendy Markovich and UCLA Adaptive Athletics, we have a Teen Adventure Program for our teenagers to come together for support and to challenge themselves with new and adventurous activities. This program has shown me the incredible resolve our teens and young adults have to be healthy and enjoy life.

How do you help parents cope?
I think the most important way to help parents cope with the illness of a child is to listen. By hearing their struggles, fears and concerns, I strive to help them find the energy to manage another day. Each family is unique, but all our families share the love they have for their child. By being there when they need to talk, I hope to help them help their children.

What do you do in your spare time?
I am fortunate to have a wonderful husband, three terrific children and a great family who keep me very busy!

To learn more about Clinical Social Work, click here.