What Social Work Jobs are in Palliative Care?

Palliative CareSocial work jobs in palliative care offer specialized and meaningful career opportunities across health care and social work platforms. Qualified personnel with state and national certifications can find a variety of jobs helping patients, caregivers and families as they negotiate serious illness or end-of-life situations. These services are applicable to people of any age with chronic diseases, individuals who have life-altering disabilities, or elderly patients with end-of-life needs. Job diversity also spans a wide spectrum of settings including including homes, hospitals, residential settings, hospices and outpatient facilities.

Defining Palliative Care

Palliative care refers to the prevention or relief of pain brought on by serious illness whether terminal or chronic. This pain can be physical, spiritual or psychosocial in nature, according to the Center for Workforce Studies. The goal of palliative care is to alleviate symptoms associated with this pain through medical interventions, medications, therapy or counseling. Accomplishing this type of care relies on an interdisciplinary team that includes physicians, nurses, medical assistants, counselors, spiritual advisers and social workers.

How Do Social Workers Assist with Palliative Care?

Prolonged illness and pain can create physical, emotional and spiritual stresses for afflicted individuals, their loved ones and caregivers. In response to these stresses, social workers trained to work in palliative care act as liaisons, listening ears and advisers to support clients and their families with making serious life decisions, affirming life and learning to cope with grief or loss, according to the Social Work, Hospice, and Palliative Care Network. In the course of their jobs, palliative care social workers are likely to provide some of the following services:

  • Interviewing and assessing patient and family needs
  • Providing education about end-of-life stages and types of palliative care
  • Teaching caregivers, patients and families about coping skills and non-medical management of symptoms
  • Being a resource to help mediate conflicts that may arise concerning treatments or expected outcomes
  • Advocating on the patient’s and family’s behalf with other team members
  • Training on-site caregivers, medical assistants and staff about palliative care protocols
  • Facilitating support groups
  • Linking patients and families with inter-agency resources for financial, housing or other types of living assistance
  • Helping patients and families with long-term and short-term lifespan planning and advanced care options
  • Making visits or consulting with patients and families at home and in residential or inpatient settings

Types of Social Work Jobs in Palliative Care

Social workers with the appropriate credentials can find competitive employment as palliative care team members across private and public sectors sponsored by for-profit or non-profit groups. Top employers include state and local government agencies, medical facilities, in-home care providers, assisted living residences and nursing homes. Oftentimes, social workers may be the primary professionals providing mental health services especially for geriatric populations. They are also integral employees of independent hospice organizations.

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The median wage for social workers specializing in palliative care ranges between $43,000-$61,000 annually with increased salaries for those possessing higher degrees and more years of experience. Wages appear to be slightly higher in western regions of the United States. Social work jobs in palliative care can be further diversified by those seeking career advancements into leadership positions as administrators, industry advocates, policy-makers, educators and researchers.