March is National Social Work Month. Social workers have a tremendous impact on the livelihood and overall wellness of people in challenging situations. While we celebrate the contributions of social workers across the care spectrum, we are particularly grateful for those working in palliative care. Here's everything you need to know about social workers' roles in palliative and end-of-life settings.
Palliative care's purpose is "to prevent or relieve pain...associated with serious illness." (Social Workers in Hospice and Palliative Care) Overall, social workers in palliative and hospice settings work closely with their teams to ensure that the needs of patients and their families are being met, and they also help people navigate the "psychological, physical, and spiritual stressors" in the face of chronic illness and death (Mary Raymer, Help Starts Here).
Regarding the delivery of end-of-life care, this particular group of social workers "are a perfect match with hospice and palliative care programs, which are designed to treat the whole person in an interdisciplinary manner to enhance quality of life during challenging times." The major areas of assistance include: symptom management, ethical dilemmas, financial stress, advance care planning, and grief/bereavement (Raymer).
Social workers can be found in both hospital and hospice settings. As part of a team in a hospital, social workers not only help patients and family caregivers adjust to the hospital admission process and provide them with post-hospital care options, they also inform hospital staff of the specific care requirements for each unique case (NASW Center for Workforce Studies, National Association of Social Workers).
On hospice teams, "social workers will represent the individual/family’s wishes at every team meeting and advocate within other systems to enhance their responsiveness and insure that each family receives care that is hand tailored to fit their needs" (Raymer). Hospice and palliative social workers "have a unique opportunity to help people identify, try to answer, and live with core existential questions" (NASW Center for Workforce Studies, NASW).
The social worker's role is crucial in creating positive hospice outcomes, which include, but are not limited to: lower hospice costs, fewer hospitalizations of patients, and higher quality of life for patients (Social Work Outcomes Task Force, National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization). Social workers can help make the transition--both mentally and physically--into hospice care an easier one.
Social workers serve an important role in a variety of settings, especially when it comes to end-of-life preparation. These individuals encounter challenging situations everyday, and a great deal of responsibility falls on them to alleviate the emotional and physical stressors encountered by their clients and families. It is with gratitude that Carely recognizes these individuals in honor of Social Work Month.
- NASW Standards for Palliative and End of Life Care//This PDF does an excellent job defining hospice and palliative care and discusses the responsibilities of social workers in these settings.
- A Day in the Life of a Specialist Palliative Care Social Worker//A first-hand account of what it's like serving as a social worker in hospice