Social Work and Rare Disease Day

by: Emily Walsh and Deona Hooper

In honor of Rare Disease Day, the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance is working with Social Work Helper to spread awareness about the effect that rare diseases can have on a person and their support system and also what resources are out there to help ease some of the added strain. Rare Disease Day is an awareness campaign that was created by EURORDIS in 2008 that shares information relevant to rare diseases that affect people all over the world.

Though each individual rare disease affects a small percentage of people, 1 in every 10 Americans suffers from such a disease, making it a more prevalent issue than many would think. Why does having a rare condition differ from having a more widely known disease and what resources are there to support those who find themselves in need of help?

David vs. Goliath

When a person receives a diagnosis of a rare condition or form of cancer, such as mesothelioma, it can often be difficult to know where to begin. Doctors can provide guidance, but often those providing the initial diagnosis are not specialists in that particular area. It then falls to the patient to follow through with receiving a second opinion from a specialist, who could be located several hours away in the nearest large city or even in another state.

Once an appointment can be made, the waiting period often leads patients to research their condition online. The internet can be a blessing and a curse when pertaining to medical information. Science based and medically sound websites can provide a wealth of information, but there is also the possibility of finding false information or statistics that may seem alarming. However, there are also support groups that can be found, where patients can discuss their concerns with others who have been in their situation.

Even with support of doctors, family, and friends, receiving a rare disease diagnosis can feel insurmountable, but there are resources available that can help.

How are social workers able to help?

Being diagnosed with a rare disease or chronic health condition can be extremely taxing both physically and mentally. Many hospitals, doctor’s offices, and palliative care centers have social workers on their care teams to connect patients to information, services and resources in order to help them navigate through this difficult time. Social workers are there to help the patient and family identify barriers to treatment and achieve their overall wellness plan.

There are also oncology social workers who specifically specialize in assisting patients with a cancer diagnosis such as mesothelioma. “Oncology social workers provide information on resources, medical and insurance coverage, and how to talk to your family and the children in your lives about cancer,” Penny Damaskos, Director of the Social Work Department at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, said to the American Society of Clinical Oncology.”

Long term care for chronic conditions not only affects the physical and mental health of the patient, but it also impacts the mental wellness of their caregivers. Social Workers provide approximately 60% of all mental health services in the United States, and engaging in individual and/or group therapy should be considered as part of the patient’s holistic wellness plan. Telemental health services maybe also be an option for patients and family members who have financial and/or transportation barriers preventing them from engaging in traditional face to face therapy.

What are some social worker resources for those who have rare diseases?

Knowing where to look for information and resources during a crisis can be overwhelming especially if Google is your only ally. Although a staff social worker is the best access to information, it may take sometime before you are connected.

Social Work Helper has created a mobile app to help individuals and families find highly recommended resources and services in their local area ranging from mental health services, low cost prescription drugs and palliative care services to food banks and other social services. Download here!

Oncology Social Workers: Patient and Family Advocates

When the profession began in the 1960s, oncology social work focused on providing palliative care. Defined as “interdisciplinary, person- and family-centered health care for individuals and families affected by serious or life-limiting illness,” palliative care seeks to “relieve pain, other symptoms and stress of the illness, thereby optimizing quality of life,” according to an article from the National Association of Social Workers (NASW).

Oncology social work later added a number of other services to people living with cancer and their families. Today, the growing specialty has become a vital part of cancer care.

Understanding Oncology Social Work

Service Areas

The Association of Oncology Social Work identifies four service areas for scope of practice in oncology social work.

  • Services to cancer survivors, families and caregivers through clinical practice. Comprehensive psychosocial services and programs: assist survivors in navigating through health care systems; foster coping and adaptation to cancer and its effects; mobilize resources for social and emotional support; and advocate with or on behalf of survivors, families and caregivers.
  • Services to institutions and agencies to increase their understanding of cancer and ability to provide quality psychosocial programs and care. This includes collaboration with other professionals for quality psychosocial care, education and research; education and consultation to professionals and staff about factors that impact cancer care; and development of programs and resources to address the needs of cancer survivors.
  • Services to the community that strengthen programs, resources and services available to meet the needs of cancer survivors. This includes education of communities to increase awareness of the psychosocial needs of survivors, families and caregivers; collaboration in development of special programs and resources to address community-based needs; and collaboration with community agencies to remove barriers to cancer prevention, screening and early detection, and access to care.
  • Services to the profession. This includes support of the appropriate orientation, supervision and evaluation of clinical social workers in oncology; participation in and promotion of student training and professional education in oncology social work; and advancement of knowledge through clinical and other research.

Role as Patient and Family Advocates

Oncology social workers provide a large number of services to those facing cancer, health care institutions, the community and the profession, but their role as patient and family advocate is central.

“If you talk to 10 different social workers, you’ll get 10 different answers of what they assist with,” Jennifer Bires, program coordinator for the cancer center at George Washington Medical Faculty Associates in Washington, D.C., told NASW. “They provide help to patients and their families, from the start of diagnosis to survivorship, and, if it unfortunately comes to it, the end of life.”

“Oncology social workers provide information on resources, medical and insurance coverage, and how to talk to your family and the children in your lives about cancer,” Penny Damaskos, director of the social work department at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, said to the American Society of Clinical Oncology. “We are patient and family advocates. We provide assistance in coping with the diagnosis to patients and families all along the disease continuum, teach relaxation techniques to reduce anxiety, lead psycho-educational support groups, help individuals transition to survivorship, and conduct research about all of the above.”

Changes in the delivery and quality of health care have increased the focus on oncology social workers’ role as advocates. “We are in the middle of a huge transition in medical care coverage and delivery in this country,” Damaskos said. “This massive change impacts oncology patients tremendously, and now more than ever, we are advocates for individuals as they undergo treatment and move into the post-treatment phase of the cancer experience. Due to advances in treatment options and screening techniques, more people are living with cancer as a chronic illness.”

Oncology Social Worker Salary

Role-specific salary data for oncology social workers is unavailable. However, social workers who have a Master of Social Work degree and practice in hospitals and medical centers (which describes most oncology social workers) earn a median annual salary of $60,000, according to a salary analysis from NASW.

Bires and Grace Christ, professor emerita at the Columbia University School of Social Work, agree that there will be more employment opportunities for oncology social workers in the future. This is partly the result of an initiative in the late 1990s to early 2000s that examined the treatment of people with cancer. “During that time, it was realized that care for cancer patients was very treatment-focused, very physically focused, so there was an emphasis to integrate more psychosocial components,” Christ said. “Cancer is a disease that affects people in many different ways besides the physical.”

Bires adds that the need for psychosocial care in oncology will only increase. “Oncology social work is a hopeful field because as the community at large realizes cancer is not just a ‘medical’ illness — it affects the whole being of a patient, and their families — we will see more jobs open up,” she said.

How to Become an Oncology Social Worker

The first step to becoming an oncology social worker is earning a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree. This is the most common requirement to start working in the social work profession in entry-level positions such as caseworker or mental health assistant, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Some employers may hire candidates with a bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as psychology or sociology.

An oncology social worker is a type of clinical social worker, and to perform clinical work, a Master of Social Work (MSW) is needed. MSW programs develop clinical assessment and management skills. By earning an MSW degree, graduates enhance their careers and choose specialties such as oncology social work.

Aurora University’s online BSW and online MSW programs prepare graduates for careers in direct-service positions and clinical social work. In a flexible and convenient online learning environment, students learn the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in their field. Aurora University’s programs are Chicagoland’s only CSWE accredited online programs.

Are We Afraid of Developing Technology for the Elderly

I work for a hospice program providing palliative care which means we attend to the emotional and spiritual needs of terminally ill patients at an inpatient facility or at the patient’s home, and I see lots of people near the end of their life. Some of them are too lethargic to use an iPad, but many are not.

birdbeard-300x300Though all of my clients are dying, they are otherwise able to function normally for a person their age. Those who are not lethargic or in their last days often tell me how bored they are!

They speak about their inability to find anything that entertains them. So, I did a little research on the subject thinking “Well maybe a computer for older folks might help.” Turns out there are some, the options are not great, and I have yet to see one in an assisted living facility.

So why has Apple not attempted to make iPad adaptable to Seniors’ needs?

Personally, I want to be able to browse the internet when I am seventy, and I want to be able to keep up with the news when I have arthritis and can’t swipe properly. Below are some reasons why we don’t have it and why we are going to need it.

Generational Gap

The affordable personal computer came out in the 80’s which means those who grew up with computers are now just entering their early to mid 40’s. To everyone else, computers were new and confusing.  However, this doesn’t excuse the lack of technology for those who are older, but it does help to explain the lack of attention to this market.


In-fant-til-ize-a-tion: To treat or condescend as if still a young child

Would you let a baby play with your expensive iPhone? If the answer is yes, you have more money than I do. Most people are afraid their child will break their expensive toy. They are not wrong either most children will. We assume the same of older adults, that they will either break it out of frustration or will not be able to comprehend its use. Neither is true. There are many older adults who know how and enjoy using computers to entertain themselves


Likely the worst offender, we refuse to make these adaptations to technology because doing so would be admitting our own mortality. It would require acknowledgment that we will grow old and may eventually need these devices ourselves. Once we can admit we are growing older as a society more and more of these devices will be present.

That’s it for now, but I can’t wait for the Angry Bird’s senior edition to come out. In the comments below tell me about what you want on your computer when you are older!

The Significance of Discharge Planning in Medical Social Work

By Ebenezer Cudjoe and Daniel Gyedu


Assisting patients with timely arrangements for their post hospital care continues to be a, if not the, central function of social workers in most hospitals (Cowles, 1999: 163). In 1986, federal legislation in the form of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act mandated that every hospital have a process for planning patient discharges. According to the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, a discharge plan must be included in the patient’s medical record and discussed with the patient or patient representative.

The underlying purpose of this law was to facilitate speedy discharge of patients (Sharpe, 1991). As a result, the role of the discharge planner is now firmly established and integrated into the structure of the contemporary hospital (Iglehart, 1990). It is necessary to emphasis here that the role of the hospital social worker in planning patients for discharge is indispensable.

The role of the hospital social worker in planning for discharge is important to ensure that patients are able to adequately adapt to their former environment. This case is an important concern to practitioners working with patients recovering from or managing acute health conditions such as cancer or a disability. The American Hospital Association (1984) defines discharge planning as an interdisciplinary process guided by the following essential elements:

  1. Early identification of patients likely to need complex post hospital
  2. Indication of patient preferences for post hospital care
  3. Patient and family education
  4. Patient and family assessment and counseling
  5. Planning, development, and coordination of community resources
    needed to ensure continuity of care after discharge
  6. Post discharge follow-up to ensure services and plan outcome

In most hospitals, these activities fall within the realm of the social work department although nursing departments are also involved. From the viewpoint of social work, discharge planning is an aspect of professional activity that helps patients cope with their illness and its effects, move through the hospital system, and eventually return to their home with all the necessary supports to sustain their health (Beder, 2006). This service encompasses assessment of individual needs, formulation of an adequate and safe discharge plan, and implementation of the plan that ensures the safety and well-being of the patient in a timely manner (Davidson, 1990).

Discharge planning is viewed as the main method for ensuring patients’ needs post discharge will be met to enable optimal functioning once they return home (American Hospital Association 1984). It is important to note that after-hospital care is exhaustively linked to discharge planning.

The Phases of Discharge Planning

In an article written by Oktay et al. (1992) on the “Impact of Hospital Discharge Planning on Meeting Patient Needs after Returning Home,” discharge planning was conceptualised as having four phases (1) patient assessment; (2) development of a discharge plan; (3) provision of services, including patient/family education and service referrals; and (4) follow-up/evaluation. Although hospitals employ different types of discharge planning strategies in each of these phases, it is generally agreed that two factors in particular are important for meeting patient needs.

First, discharge planning is expected to be more effective if there is interdisciplinary input in planning the patient’s home care (Hartigan and Brown 1985). The advantage of involving multiple disciplines in a team effort is that the expertise of each discipline is brought to bear on identifying and meeting the patient’s home care needs. Through such professional interaction, the patient’s needs can be identified more readily, and appropriate referrals for services can be coordinated and executed in a timely manner.

Second, the usefulness of a designated professional like the case manager, who assumes primary responsibility for coordinating the discharge plan with other providers, has also been emphasized as essential (Hartigan and Brown, 1985). It is viewed that case managers with established community linkages to various services and specific knowledge of the complicated reimbursement requirements can act more efficiently to implement aftercare services (Oktay et al., 1992).

The phases of discharge planning introduced by Oktay et al. (1992) shares a platform with the discharge planning process of the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital (KATH) per the information we received from the hospital social work department. KATH’s discharge planning process includes an evaluation of the outcome of the patient’s treatment, a discussion between the social worker and the patient or a representative of the patient (a relative, friend or any other significant others) about the outcomes of the evaluation, planning, determination (how to execute the plan) and a referral (for when the patient is to be transferred to another facility).

The Significance of Discharge Planning in a Hospital Setting

The significance of quality discharge planning to cost savings is indicated by study findings to support early hospital social worker intervention with a patient correlates with shorter patient’s stays. “Implementing discharge planning activities, and their coordination, are central functions of the hospital-based social worker. Today’s social workers monitor comprehensive discharge planning services in a case management context” (Blumenfield, Bennett, & Rehr, 1998, p. 83). Beder (2006) contends that discharge planning must be done to enable the purpose and survival of the hospital as a financially stable institution.

Discharge planning enables the patient to have a smooth transmission from hospital to home and to ensure the patient will function to the optimal level. In this, the hospital social worker helps in the patient recovery process from the time the patient prepares to leave the hospital. The worker informs the patient and any other relatives or significant others about the effects of the patient’s condition with regards to his relationship with the community. For example, one effect of a paralysed patient on family members would be the need for constant attention on the patient. Family members would need to understand the condition of their family member and how they could successfully relate to him or her.

Hospital social workers planning for discharge help inform patients when they will be going home and what they have to go through on the day of discharge. Kadushin and Kulys (1993) state that the provision of concrete services after discharge was the most basic, essential component and primary focus of discharge planning. These service arrangements may include home health care, medical equipment, transportation, or delivery of medical supplies and medication.

Discharge planning also enables patients to acquire resources to assist with functioning. In helping the patient get access to resource,s the social worker does an assessment of financial, social, and psychological resources available for the patient and family. Social works can coordination with other medical staff to facilitate the discharge plan, produce a written record of what has been and needs to be done for the patient, and link services for patients and families after discharge (Kadushin & Kulys, 1993). For instance, using Tracy’s (1990) Social Support the social worker will be able to provide information, encouragement and tangible assistance that is perceived by the patient as being beneficial to his or her functioning.

Finally, it is important to note that the central goal of discharge planning is for the social worker
to fully address the highly individualised needs of each patient and provide safeguards at home for his or her care. In general, it requires the social worker to apply a biopsychosocial approach to care that addresses a wide range of patient and family needs while incorporating the skills and orientation of medical and other health care professionals. The social worker must also have knowledge of community-based services and an understanding of how these services can best be accessed in order to serve the patient upon discharge (Blumenfield et al., 1998).

The Challenge of Discharge Planning

Many patients ready for discharge are accordingly referred to hospital social workers and other discharge planners. The challenges faced by hospital social workers at KATH is summed up in Cowles’ (1999) presentation of the constraints workers face in discharge planning. One or more of the following conditions exist as barriers to discharge planning (the list is not exhaustive):

  • The patient may be insufficiently recovered from the acute health condition to take care of himself or herself.
  • The patient may be mentally confused, emotionally depressed, or otherwise mentally impaired permanently or temporarily.
  • The patient may have a new baby with special problems but has never cared for an infant before.
  • The patient has been advised not to climb stairs and he or she is disabled from waist down and he stays in an upstairs building
  •  The patient has to be reporting to the hospital regularly for treatment, and he or she has no personal transportation and the financially incapable (Cowles, 1999: 167).
  • Other challenges noted by the hospital social work department of KATH was the problem working with the elderly (65+), the developmental disabled, the unemployed, persons without health insurance and patients who attempt suicide

In conclusion, Beder (2006) notes the primary role of the social worker is to facilitate discharge and engage the patient and family. However, beyond this mandate, social workers have numerous opportunities to interact with and influence the patient and family to enhance fulfillment during the healing process.


American Hospital Association. (1984). Discharge planning guidelines.Chicago: Author.

Beder, J. (2006). Hospital Social Work: The   Interface of Medicine and Caring.New York: Routledge, Taylor and   Francis.

Blumenfield, S., Bennett, C., & Rehr,   H. (1 998). Discharge planning: A key function. In H. Rehr, G. Rosenberg,   & S. Blumenfield (Eds.), Creative social work in health care (pp.   83–91). New York: Springer.

Cowles, L. A. (1999). Social Work in thr Health Field: A   Care Perspective.New York: Haworth Press, Inc.

Davidson, K. (1990). Evolving Social Work roles in Health   Care: The case of Discharge Planning. Social Work in Health Care,   181-194.

Hartigan, E. G. (1985). Discharge Planning for   Continuity of Care. New York: National League for Nursing.

Iglehart, A. (1990). Discharge Planning: Professional   Perspectives Versus Organisational Effects. Health and Social Work, 15(4),   301-309.

Kadushin, G. and Kulys, R. (1993). Discharge Planning   Revisited: What do Social Workers Actually do? Social Work, 38(6),   713-726.

Oktay et. al, (1992). Impact of Hospital Discharge   Planning on Meeting Patient Needs after Returning Home. Health Services Research, 156-170

Sharpe, L. (1991). Discharge Planning: Before the fact. Discharge   Planning Update. 11(4), 3-5.

Practical Palliative Care Resources for Patients and Family Caregivers

Caritas House headquarters of Harris HospisCare (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Does your practice’s website include local or national resources that complement the professional medical services they provide?  One way to add value to the services and increase the efficiency of medical office visits is to provide palliative care resources that your patients and their caregivers can use to inform care decisions.

Many people are starting to hear the term palliative care in the media from care managers and from people they know.  Yet, national research indicates that most people are unfamiliar with the term or confuse it with only one type of palliative care – hospice. Unlike hospice, palliative care is available to anyone, regardless of his/her illness or condition or life expectancy.  Palliative care can be offered in conjunction with curative or life-extending care and is available in all care settings.

The California State University Institute for Palliative Care defines palliative care as care that improves quality of life for patients and families facing serious or chronic illness — whatever the diagnosis or prognosis. It prevents and relieves suffering by addressing pain as well as the physical, emotional, psychosocial and spiritual problems associated with serious and chronic conditions.

Palliative care complements the care that your patients receive from you and acute care providers and can help with care transitions and prevent costly ER visits or (re)hospitalizations, by holistically addressing pain and symptoms while supporting family caregivers. Simply adding some or all of these resources can help to educate your patients about palliative care and communicate your support for this emerging aspect of healthcare.

Palliative Care Resources:

  • CSU Institute for Palliative Care –
  • Get Palliative Care –
  • Center to Advance Palliative Care –
  • Caring Connections – 
  • WebMD –
  • Department of Veterans Affairs –
  • Mayo Clinic –
  • National Cancer Institute –
  • Next Step in Care –

The CSU Institute for Palliative Care at California State University San Marcos

Living Longer With Palliative Care

November is National Hospice and Palliative Care Month, and it is estimated that 1.5 to 1.6 million patients in the United States received hospice or palliative care services in 2012. Anecdotal accounts indicate that many more who would benefit by this care did not have access to it or had to wait so long that services were provided only during their final few days of life.

Considering that 90 percent of American adults live with a chronic illness before they die, this is an important issue. While some manage well on their own with minimal assistance from healthcare professionals and/or friends and family, others may need more hands-on care and supervision, particularly as their disease burden becomes heavier. We cannot forget that as the population ages, more people with multiple illnesses or conditions will require more supportive care.

livinglongerDoctors, nurses, social workers, chaplains, and allied health professionals play a vital role in educating the public about palliative care and the fact that it is much more than just hospice.  Sharing the same philosophy and patient and family-centric approach, palliative care is the broader umbrella of care for those with a serious or chronic illness and goes hand-in-hand with curative treatment.  Palliative Care is care that may be given while someone is receiving treatment that they hope will either cure them of their illness or prolong their life. Hospice on the other hand is the intensive end-of-life care offered to patients who are projected to have less than 6 months to live and who have elected to discontinue curative treatment.

The other role that health professionals, in particular physicians and nurses, play is in referring patients to palliative care.  When we explore the reasons why health professionals are not referring their patients to palliative care, many reasons surface.  Some of these reasons include the fact that services are not available in their area or that they are afraid of “losing” their patient.  The first reason is valid; the second is not, as most palliative care is consultative.  But the reason that is hardest to understand is when providers do not refer because they believe that a palliative care referral means giving up on life.  In fact, the opposite is true.

As noted above, palliative care goes hand-in-hand with curative treatment.  Most importantly, as an article, published in The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) in August 2010 highlighted, researchers have found what many had suspected for some time, that receiving palliative care actually helps patients to live longer.

The researchers evaluated the utility of early palliative care for patients with metastatic non-small-cell lung cancer. Newly diagnosed patients were randomly assigned to either early palliative care in addition to standard cancer care or cancer care alone. The results showed that not only did the patients who received palliative care have a better quality of life; they also lived longer, with a median survival of 11.6 months compared with 8.9 months in the group that did not receive palliative care.  Since this article was published, other smaller scale studies have duplicated these findings.

There are many benefits to the health care system of palliative care because it reduces readmissions, results in few admissions for futile care, and in general, reduces costs associated with serious illness and end of life care.  But, as important as reducing costs is, it pales besides the human imperative to enhance the quality of life of those we care about.  And, no one would disagree that enabling those we love and care for to live as long as possible with the highest quality of life possible is a higher order goal.

Palliative care is an approach that requires close teamwork from healthcare professionals, from nurses and physicians to social workers, pharmacists, dietitians, chaplains, counselors and many more.  Thanks to this teamwork, the needs of the patient and family can be assessed, understood and addressed.  And, thanks to this teamwork, palliative care professionals are helping patients with serious and chronic illnesses live longer and enjoy their lives more.

During National Hospice and Palliative Care month, isn’t it time that all of us who are health care professionals set aside our preconceptions and control issues, make the necessary referrals, acts as teams and focus on the best for patients and their families?

California State University (CSU) Palliative Care Certification for Social Workers

According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), palliative care is medical care necessary to support patients suffering from chronic illnesses such as cancer, HIV, rare genetic diseases, and other disorders in order to help provide the best quality of life.  In order for palliative care to work properly, it requires a team of doctors, nurses, and social workers to develop a plan of care to assist the patient and their families. Recently,  I had the opportunity to interview Helen McNeal who is the Executive Director of the California University Institute of Palliative Care at Cal State San Marcos. Here is our discussion:

SWH: Could you tell us about your background and position with California State University?

ipc_headshot_helenmcnealHM: My role is guide the Institute team in accomplishing its mission of educating current and future health care professionals about palliative care, and educating the public about palliative care, its importance, how to access it and advocate for it in the community. We are also charged to do and create a model for professional and community education that can be replicated at California State University campuses and others across the state and around the country.

I have been involved in hospice and palliative care for more than 25 years, beginning with helping to found a hospice in Ontario Canada and from that point forward consulting on palliative care with the provincial and federal governments in Canada, with the Department of Health and Human Services and the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization here in the U.S. Prior to becoming involved with launching and establishing the CSU Institute for Palliative Care in July of 2012, I was the Vice President and Executive Director for the Institute for Palliative Medicine at San Diego Hospice. As you can tell, palliative care is my passion!

SWH: What is Palliative Care, and what prompted California State University to create the first certificate program of its kind?

HM: Palliative care is specialized care that focuses on improving quality of life for people with serious or chronic illness and their families. It prevents and relieves suffering by addressing pain as well as the physical, emotional, psycho-social and spiritual problems associated with serious and chronic conditions. The goal is to improve quality of life for both the patient and the family. Palliative care is provided by a team of doctors, nurses, social workers, chaplains and other specialists who work together with a patient’s other doctors to provide an extra layer of support. It is appropriate at any age and at any stage in a serious illness and can be provided along with curative treatment.

The CSU is the largest workforce development “engine” in the country, graduating 80% of all health care professionals in California. With 1 in 8 Americans currently over the age of 65 and that number growing to 1 in 5 by 2030, the CSU recognized the importance of palliative care to current and future health professionals and, with the leadership of one of our trustees and President Karen Haynes of Cal State San Marcos, created the Institute.

Social workers are a vital part of the palliative care team. There are not a lot of educational options for social workers interested in improving their palliative care skills and the need for palliative care trained social workers is great. Creating the first online palliative care certificate program just made sense. President Haynes is a PhD Social Worker and former Dean of a School of Social Work, so she supported our making this program a priority. Initially, we had thought to make the program a hybrid, with the first of the three levels of the program done in person, but social workers told us to put it all online … and we have.

SWH: How can this certificate benefit social work practitioners and assist them in their career goals?

HM: Social workers are vital to the success of palliative care if we are to address the psycho-social needs of patients and families. In addition, social workers can play a vital role in advance-care planning and in addressing the practical issues that cause pain and suffering for those with chronic and serious illness and their families.

There is a true story that I often share about the impact of social workers in palliative care. A young immigrant mother with advanced breast cancer was suffering intractable pain and nothing seemed to help. A social worker was brought in to speak with her in her native language and learned that she was concerned for the well-being of her two children. She wanted, after her death, for them to be raised in Mexico by her mother instead of in the U.S. with her husband. The social worker was able to work this out with the husband and mother, and from that point forward, only minimal pain medication was required to keep her comfortable. Research has shown that patients who have the opportunity to work with a palliative care social worker have a more positive care experience as this story illustrates.

With 90% of those over 65 having at least one serious or chronic illness, the demand for palliative care trained social workers is going to continue growing. It offers a rewarding career path for both current and new social workers but it requires specialized skills, and that is what our program offers. In addition, with the emphasis on interdisciplinary practice, there are opportunities for social workers to take on more of a leadership role in delivering palliative care than ever before.

For social workers looking for a rewarding career and opportunities for leadership in today’s changing healthcare environment, our program provides the education that can help them achieve their goals. Our program consists of three levels. Level 1 provides participants with a firm grounding in the principles and role of the palliative care social worker. Level 2 enhances their skills in key areas including motivational interviewing, grief and loss, dealing with difficult cases and special populations. Level 3 prepares them for leadership and program building, while also facilitating their completing a project in the form of original research, developing a program or getting an article published. In short, it provides a strong foundation for career success in every dimension.

SWH: Some Social Work practitioners may be skeptical about online education, what can you tell us about the program at CSU that will help alleviate any concerns?

HM: What we hear from social workers is that they don’t have time to take off from work to do an advanced program and that while they want to learn more about palliative care, they need a program that they can do where they are, when they have time … and that is cost-effective. The Institute’s Post-MSW Palliative Care Certificate meets these requirements.

Social workers doing our program will do one module each month, doing one segment each week for three weeks and then have a one-week break. While the work for the week needs to be done that week, it can be done whenever the social worker has time … at lunch, in the evening, on Saturday morning. What could be easier and more convenient? With a maximum of 15 participants in the course, there will be lots of interaction with colleagues as well as with our outstanding faculty.

I understand that those who have not done online learning might be skeptical but as we hear from those who do our other online programs, doing an asynchronous learning program means that you can really bring real world challenges into the classroom, discuss them with colleagues and get rapid responses from your faculty. What participants are telling us is that online education brings learning closer to their daily clinical experience.

SWH: Are there plans to create other types of certifications to support post MSW learning, and are there any key points that you would like to personally relay to potential students interested in this program?

HM: Our focus is on educating professionals in palliative care. We are assessing the need for a post-BSW certificate in palliative care as so many BSW social workers work in hospice and long-term care settings. In addition, because we have certificate programs for all the individual members of the palliative care team, we are looking at doing an interdisciplinary program that would be undertaken by palliative care teams to enhance their skills at working as a team.

In the meantime, we would love to hear from social workers what they would like us to provide in palliative care training. After all, we know that social workers are committed to providing exceptional care to patients and families, and we are here to help them achieve that goal!

For more information on the Palliative Care Certificate Program, please visit using this link.

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