FROM THE VERY BEGINNING when she discovered her profession in Japan to her current work at the Queen’s Cancer Center, social work has been an incredible journey for Mary Nakasuji-Yoshino, MSW. Mary recently enjoyed a crowning moment in her career when she was named Social Work Practitioner of the Year by the National Association of Social Workers – Hawaii Chapter.
When Mary graduated from the University of Hawaii with a BA in Japanese language, she didn’t even know there was such a profession as social work. After UH, Mary went to Waseda University in Tokyo to study linguistics because her career goal was to become a translator for NATO. While she was at Waseda, she received a full scholarship to attend Kyushu University. While there, she met Akiyo Suizu Hirota, a neighbor who was a social worker at a private rehab hospital in Fukuoka. Mary wanted to give back to the community, so she started volunteering at Akiyo’s hospital, seeing first hand social work in action. She was intrigued.
When Mary returned home, she discovered the Myron B. Thompson School of Social Work at the University of Hawaii. After earning her master’s degree, Mary worked at the Rehabilitation Hospital of the Pacific before coming to Queen’s. This month, she marks 24 years of service.
Mary says she likes the flexibility of her profession. Social workers can work in the legal system, community, health clinic, agency, in the Department of Education, in behavioral health, and of course, in hospitals. Mary says that being a social worker makes you think outside the box, and you can be as creative as you can be. Inpatient social workers deal with a multitude of issues at discharge, including the diagnosis, finances, family issues, community resources, homelessness, and find the best options for patients.
In her current role at the Queen’s Cancer Center, Mary counsels newly diagnosed patients to those who have had to change their goals from cure to comfort and to find meaning in life—and everyone in between. “I have been enriched by their cancer journey,” she says.
“Social work has also been good for me in personal life,” says Mary. “It provided me tools in nurturing my two children and growing with them, and also provided me assessment skills, which led to finding a wonderful, loving husband, Dennis Yoshino.” Social work is all about a team effort: Mary thanked all of her Queen’s colleagues. “I would not be here without you,” she said.