Can I Work in Hospice with a Social Work Degree?

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) states that there is a growing need for social workers to provide professional support to clients and families in hospice and palliative care settings. It is entirely possible to find work in hospice-based organizations with a social work degree.

Hospice-based Social Work

The goal of hospice-based care is to improve the social, physical and psychological quality of life for people who have serious illnesses. Hospice-based social workers work in interdisciplinary teams of health care experts, which includes palliative care professionals who seek to reduce or prevent pain related to chronic or terminal conditions. Although most people associate hospice-based care with older adults, some hospice-based social workers specialize in pediatric or adult centered care. All hospice-based social workers fulfill a variety of roles and tasks.

What are the Job Duties?

Hospice-based social workers perform bio-psycho assessments to establish goals, understand needs and focus on the strengths of both patients and families. They may be asked to provide counseling and psycho-social education to patients and families. This will help people learn coping, self-care and pain management skills. Some social workers are employed by their state’s health or human service agency that protects elderly and disabled adults. These social workers will work with community partners to provide education workshops and host community outreach programs. Some social workers will manage a caseload and help their clients coordinate care and navigate through complex health care systems. A small number of social workers will legally represent their clients and advocate on their behalf.

How is a Social Work Degree Beneficial?

A social work degree is required for any student who wants to become a social worker. This degree will introduce students to the fundamental practices and principles of social work. Basic classes will cover psychology, government and social welfare policy. Other classes introduce students to human behavior, biology and diversity. Almost all social work degrees allow students to select appropriate electives hospice-based classes. These classes will delve deep into the aging, grieving and dying processes. Most students take classes that explore the relationships between social work and spirituality and geriatrics. Many students choose to take introductory medical and health care classes.

What are the Pros and Cons?

Hospice-based social workers are privileged to help individuals and families during vulnerable and challenging experiences. They have unique opportunities to help people who are passing away find peace and dignity. These social workers often establish lifelong bonds with clients and family members. However, it can be very stressful and depressing to deal with clients who have serious illnesses and permanent pain. Chronic exposure to the dying and bereavement processes can be traumatizing. However, most social workers enjoy working closely with interdisciplinary teams and grateful patients.

Hospice-based social workers are expected to pursue industry standard certification through the NASW, which offers a Certified Hospice and Palliative Social Worker (CHP-SW) accreditation for students with bachelor’s degrees and an Advanced Certified Hospice and Palliative Social Worker (ACHP-SW) for students with master’s degrees.