Palliative care: Could it be your social work path?

At my field placement with CarePartners, I have come across a new, interesting type of social work; palliative care.  The more involved I get, the more I recognize that this seems to be a slightly unknown or rather misunderstood line of social work, one I think you might enjoy.  I have taken it upon myself to increase awareness and educate the community of what palliative care actually is, as well as the benefits of palliative care for patients and families.  Here is a little taste for those of you who are unfamiliar.
Palliative care is a specialty focused on improving overall quality of life for patients and families facing serious illness.  It is biopsychosocial-spiritual care focused on relief of suffering consistent with patient values and preferences and is similar to hospice in philosophy and holistic interdisciplinary approach, but does not solely focus on end of life care.  Appropriate referrals for palliative care would be any patient with a potentially limiting illness who can benefit from help with symptom management, establishing goals of care, psychosocial support, and transition planning.  Palliative care is also offered at all stages of illness alongside any appropriate medical treatments.
Palliative care social workers (PCSW’s) have a specialist skill set and should have a knowledge of palliative care, including clinical social work values, practices, and principles.  PCSW’s must also be familiar with the psychosocial impact of serious illness on patients and families (i.e. anticipatory mourning, suicidality, search for meaning, advance directives), as well as a general knowledge of community based palliative care resources (i.e. outpatient, home-based, Hospice care, bereavement services) and specific social work competence in palliative and end of life care (i.e. assessment, treatment planning and intervention, interdisciplinary team work, supervision, leadership).  Ideally, PCSW’s balance likeability with credibility in their professional role.
Locally through CarePartners, PCSW’s play a large role among the health care team in the community, not only providing care and support, but aiding in the transition for patients to hospice, when deemed appropriate by health care professionals, family members and patients.  Essentially when everyone agrees that the patient is “hospice appropriate”, the transition occurs. PCSW’s are often seen out in the community, in patient’s homes, in assisted living facilities, or in rehabilitation facilities.  PCSW’s spend a great deal of time working with family systems.  PCSW’s are non-billing providers and are often the most “bang for your buck”.  They often save MD’s and nurse practitioner’s time and provide many referrals to billable services, such as hospice care, within the organization.


About Sarah Smith

Greetings! My name is Sarah Smith and I am in my second year of the Mountain Area Distance Education program through the UNC Chapel Hill School of Social Work. I have the pleasure of living in Asheville while participating in the program and take full advantage of the beautiful mountains and unique community. During my first year, I continued my work as the Outreach Coordinator of the YMCA of Western North Carolina working with low income children and their families within the Asheville community. For my second year, I am inspired to begin my field placement for CarePartners Hospice in Asheville. I hope to continue in Direct Practice with Families and Children. Although my love for Asheville is genuine, I was born and raised in Ohio! You can find me at, or your local coffee house. Cheers.
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