There are few settings where social workers can work where there is the opportunity to thrive professionally and to make use of our powerful set of skills! The hospice Conditions of Participation provide a road map for social workers to be vital members of the team – a rarity in what is considered a healthcare setting. The interdisciplinary nature of hospice celebrates the voice of the social worker, both at the bedside and during IDT meetings and at all times! Our charge in hospice is to consider all potential areas of suffering and to work with patients and families toward self-determined life closure. This cannot happen without the social worker being actively involved and sharing insights and interventions. There are times as social workers that we feel our voice is not heard and not appreciated – hospice is our chance to shine and we have the responsibility to make that happen. We need to be proud and vocal about our myriad of skills and what we bring to each case, conversation and interaction. We need to be sure that each member of our team and each patient and family member realize the benefit of having a social worker walking along side of them on this journey toward the end of life. It is the social worker – each one of us – who can best explain the role of the social worker on the hospice team to show why it is vital that we are involved – to make social work services as vital as the nurse’s visits and the visits from the hospice aide.
As social workers we are the experts in family dynamics, advocacy, mental health issues, grief and resource identification and linkage….just to name a few. We need to make use of our tool box in ways that provide individualized care and care that is meaningful at each step along a patient’s journey as the needs and wants and questions change along with the patient’s condition.
While the work at the bedside is what we understandably focus on, we need to give equal attention and care to our documentation so that we are fully communicating what it is that we are doing and what our assessment findings are, what our collaboration is with our team members and what is in our plan of care. We all know if “you don’t document it, it didn’t happen” but how we document also matters. Are we using professional, clinical language, are we giving ourselves “credit” for the level of the work that we do? A guide I’ve always used is that our documentation should make it clear why it is important that a social worker made this visit or had this interaction – what specifically did we bring to the encounter that other disciplines would not.
And we bring our set of skills to team interactions as well. We are able to provide education to our co-workers about patient self-determination and how to avoid triangulation with a complex family and dangers of being judgmental when we work with patients and families who have beliefs and backgrounds that are different from our own. Every team is stronger and functions better when there is the strong voice of a social worker participating.
And we always should be self-aware and realistic about our needs for ongoing mentoring, supervision, professional education and self-care. This work is difficult and varied and often emotionally exhausting – we can only be as good to the patients, families and team members as we are good to ourselves.
So during this Social Work Month take a moment to assess where you are professionally….celebrate the work you do each day and seek opportunities to continue to grow and thrive. And accept appreciation for the difference that you make as a hospice social worker!
Risa has worked with hospice since 1993 and with Hospice and Palliative Care of Greensboro (HPCG) since 2004. With HPCG she has had many roles and currently serves as the Palliative Care Team Social Worker and Clinical Educator. She is a seasoned presenter and teacher in the area of end-of-life and ethics. By training Risa is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who holds a Masters of Social Work from the University of Pennsylvania.
Please click here to visit the Hospice and Palliative Care of Greensboro’s website for information about the organization.