Hospice & Palliative Social Worker

If you are passionate about advocating, motivating, and organizing people, then you may find a fulfilling career as a palliative care social worker. These professionals work with a team of professionals to coordinate a care schedule, and collaborate with family members to determine the best living situation for a patient nearing the end of their life. Hospice and palliative care social workers advocate for chronically ill individuals to enhance their quality of life, and provide the most comfortable environment for these patients as possible.

Now is a great time to begin your career journey to becoming a hospice and palliative care social worker, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects careers in the field to increase by 16% through 2026. Read on to learn more about the responsibilities of a hospice and palliative care social worker, steps to earning your degree, ways to enhance your career, and professional resources to help you along the way.

What Does a Hospice and Palliative Care Social Worker Do?

For these professionals, no two days look the same. Palliative care social work can be difficult, but the challenge and variety can also make this a rewarding career. On any given day, a palliative care social worker might visit a client's home, make a hospital visit, or spend some time organizing files and making phone calls at a desk.

The medical industry needs compassionate and patient individuals to guide affected families and people through difficult end-of-life transitions.

However, one of the most important responsibilities for palliative care social workers is to provide psychological and emotional support for families during a difficult time. These professionals provide grief counseling and family counseling, and assist families by coordinating care details and research helpful resources and benefits.

Unfortunately, many Americans enter hospice or palliative care every year. The medical industry needs compassionate and patient individuals to guide affected families and people through difficult end-of-life transitions. These professionals must balance empathy with positivity, and may need to provide extra advocacy for a patient if a request is turned down. These professionals must also think creatively to overcome obstacles that get in the way of a person's care.

How Do I Become a Hospice and Palliative Care Social Worker?

Education Needed to Become a Hospice and Palliative Care Social Worker

Most hospice and palliative care social worker candidates need a master's degree to earn a job in this competitive field. However, some individuals with a bachelor's degree can earn entry-level positions related to social work, but these jobs typically only serve as stepping stones to more rewarding and higher-paying social worker positions.

Keep in mind that most schools don't offer hospice and palliative care social work degrees. However, this doesn't mean you should avoid a school without this particular degree path. You can enroll in classes that cover topics related to palliative and hospice care within a social work degree. You can also supplement your master's degree with a hospice and palliative care certificate program, which many colleges and universities tend to offer.

Pursuing on-the-job experiences are another way to gather knowledge about palliative care social work. Most social work degrees require a practicum, which you can complete within a hospice or palliative care setting. In addition to the practicum, you can also seek out a paid internship or fellowship and earn school credit and money at the same time.

Quitting a full-time job and going back to school to earn a master's degree can present a challenge for many students. Thanks to convenient online learning options, you can still keep your full-time job while pursuing your passion through education. Many schools even offer a hybrid option that includes a mix of online classes and on-campus classes, while others offer completely online degrees.

Bachelor's Degree in Hospice and Palliative Care Social Work

Earning a bachelor's degree in social work is the first step towards earning a job as a hospice and palliative care social worker. This degree covers basics about how to communicate openly with patients, provide emotional support for families, and coordinate care with other healthcare providers. It usually takes students four years to complete this degree.

Master's Degree in Hospice and Palliative Care Social Work

A master's degree in this field elaborates on the foundations learned during a bachelor's program, and covers topics like how the law affects this profession. However, this program usually requires a fellowship, practicum, or capstone. Full-time students typically complete this degree in just two years, while part-time students require around three years.

Doctoral Degree in Hospice and Palliative Care Social Work

If you want to pursue a doctoral degree in hospice and palliative care social work, you can expect to spend 2-4 years on your studies. Rather than focusing on skills and application, this degree covers theories behind social work practices. Most doctoral programs require a dissertation or research project.

Accreditation for Hospice and Palliative Care Social Work Programs

As you review prospective schools, be sure to research its accreditation status. A school that holds regional or national accreditation receives regular quality assessments from a third-party organization that the U.S. Department of Education deems acceptable. Typically, employers and other higher education institutions view regional accreditation as more prestigious than schools with national accreditation. In fact, sometimes schools only accept transfer credits from regionally accredited schools.

In addition to regional and national accreditation, schools can also earn programmatic accreditation. This type of accreditation is usually granted by third-party organizations that certify a program provides graduates a rigorous education and industry best-practices. For instance, the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) is the leading organization for reviewing social work programs for schools. If you earn a degree from a program that doesn't earn accreditation from this organization, you may run the risk of failing to meet licensing requirements.

Licensure and Practicum Requirements to Become a Hospice and Palliative Care Social Worker

To practice as a palliative care social worker, you need to earn a licensed bachelor of social work (LBSW). General social workers and palliative care social workers both need an LBSW to begin their career. Upon earning a degree from a CSWE accredited school, you need to pass the Association of Social Work Board's Bachelor's Exam. However, keep in mind that most social work positions actually require a licensed master of social work (LMSW). To officially earn an LMSW, you also need to pass the Association of Social Work Board's Bachelor's Exam. The bachelor's exam fee costs $260 and the master's exam costs $230.

Although most states don't require a practicum or internship to earn a license, most CSWE-accredited programs to require these valuable learning experiences. Each state has its own unique set of licensing requirements, so try to complete your degree from a university in the state you wish to practice in, as most universities tailor their social work programs to meet its own state's requirements. If you move to another state, you will need to apply for another license, but it may not require an additional exam. To maintain your license, you need to earn continuing education hours every two years. Your state's licensing board determines how many continuing education hours.

Optional Certifications for Hospice and Palliative Care Social Workers

To help your resume stand out from the competition, graduates may want to consider certification for hospice and palliative care social workers. A certification varies from a certificate. Colleges and universities typically offer certificates, while professional organizations offer certifications and require a rigorous exam to earn the honor. Below you can find four certification options.

Employment and Salary for Hospice and Palliative Care Social Workers

Palliative care and hospice social workers can work in hospitals and nursing homes; however, many split their time between these health facilities and their clients' homes. If you want to earn a specialization in a specific area of palliative or hospice care social work, you can pursue a certificate or minor in family and conflict dispute resolution, or grief counseling. Not many palliative care or hospice social workers earn a specialization, but earning one can increase your earning potential and transform you into a competitive job candidate.

The salaries for hospice and palliative care social workers vary according to one's location and experience in the field. As you can see in the chart below, the difference between what an entry-level and seasoned hospice worker earns varies significantly. Keep in mind that these numbers represent the average salary. Additionally, social work positions on the coast tend to pay more than the same positions in the Midwest because the cost of living tends to run higher in these regions.

Average Salary by Experience for Hospice Social Workers
0-12 Months $45,000
1-4 Years $49,000
5-9 Years $53,000
10-19 Years $54,000
20+ Years $55,000
Source: PayScale

How to Find a Job as a Hospice and Palliative Care Social Worker

Hospice and palliative care social work positions are rewarding career paths, however it can be a competitive field to enter. Graduates should find ways to help their resume stand out with additional certifications and specializations. You should also send your resumes to as many employers in different industries as possible. According to the BLS, individual and family services, state government, ambulatory healthcare service, and hospitals employ the most social workers.

Designing a clean resume that only lists your top accomplishments and qualifications can help you stand out from others. Writing a cover letter tailored to each specific job you apply for can also add a nice touch to your application, as well as recommendation letters from former employers.

The BLS also predicts this career to grow faster than average at 16% through 2026. So with enough determination, patience, and the right qualifications, you can find a job as a palliative care social worker.

Hospice and Palliative Care Social Work Resources

  • Council on Social Work Education The CSWE not only accredits social work programs, but also helps social workers become educational leaders. This organization publishes the Journal of Social Work Education.
  • National Association of Social Workers The NASW is the world's largest membership organization for professional social workers. The organization works to provide education for social workers and bring them together through networking events.
  • International Federation of Social Workers IFSW advocates for social justice, human rights, and social development. The organization hosts international conferences and publishes informative journals. Members can also submit articles for publication.
  • Social Work Hospice & Palliative Care Network For the latest information, policy updates, and helpful resources in the social work field, SWHPN serves as an excellent tool. Members participate in professional networking events and receive a regular journal with important news. For younger members, the mentor program allows generations of professionals to connect to receive or share tips of the profession.
  • Association of Social Work Boards The ASWB provides members with resources for professional development and a community of other social workers. In addition, the organization provides resources for exams -- such as study books -- and holds an annual conference for educators.