How To Become a Palliative Care Social Worker

Palliative Care Social Workers play vital roles in assisting individuals with life-limiting conditions and their families. Discover how to follow this career path in this guide.
How To Become a Palliative Care Social Worker

If you’re considering a career in social work, you might be interested in exploring specialised roles within palliative care settings. Sound like you? Let’s dive into some FAQs.

What does a Palliative Care Social Worker do?

Social workers in palliative care play a crucial role in supporting individuals and families facing serious illnesses by:

  • Providing emotional and spiritual support
  • Facilitating communication
  • Helping patients and their families cope with the many aspects of a serious illness and connecting them with resources to enhance quality of life.

Palliative Care Social Workers have important responsibilities. Day-to-day, they may:

  • Write an individualised patient care plan
  • Conduct psychosocial assessments
  • Provide counselling to patients and their families (this is why a Master of Counselling can also be a beneficial stepping stone).
  • Intervene in crises
  • Coordinate the many different types of care for the patient
  • Educate the patient and their family about treatment plans and available resources.

How to become a Palliative Care Social Worker

You can become a Palliative Care Social Worker by completing a Bachelor of Social Work (Honours) and then joining the Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW). There are also other post-graduate avenues, such as enrolling in a Master of Social Work (Qualifying) or a Master of Counselling. (Basically, you either need a bachelor’s degree in the discipline, or an approved undergraduate degree and a master’s degree in social work). You can also undertake professional training in death, dying and grief counselling from there.

Aside from the academic challenges of this career path, Palliative Care Social Workers need to be emotionally prepared for the challenges of helping patients. 

With all this in mind, here are the basic stepping stones to obtaining Palliative Care Social Worker credentials.

Step 1. Enrol in an approved bachelor’s or master’s degree

Palliative Care Social Workers must have a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree in social work or counselling. The Council for Social Work Education (SCWE) must accredit the program. 

Most universities don’t offer a social work degree that specialises in palliative or hospice care. For this reason, social work students who want to specialise in palliative care should take as many relevant classes as possible to learn about and specialise in palliative care knowledge like:

  • Gerontology (the study of ageing and older adults)
  • Ageing and family
  • Death and dying
  • Social work in health care
  • Social work and spirituality
  • Ethics and legal issues.

You can also continue your education with a doctoral degree or a PhD in social work. 

Step 2. Get approved

Just like other medical professionals, teachers and even journalists, an important part of the learning process is gaining hands-on experience and logging your hours in all kinds of settings, such as hospitals, or a palliative or hospice care setting. You can also look for field internships or fellowships in palliative, hospice and medical care settings as part of your coursework.

Step 3. Obtain your license

All social workers must register with the Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW). To register, you must satisfy the AASW education requirements mentioned above.

Step 4. Continue to upskill as you progress in your career

Once you’ve acquired all the necessary qualifications, training and accreditations, continue to look for professional development opportunities. You could enrol in a weekly or fortnightly class, or ask your supervisors for recommended courses. While this career path can be challenging at times, the beauty of it is that it is always changing, so it pays to stay informed and up-to-date with the latest techniques, innovations and improvements. 

Wrap up

There are many different academic avenues one can take to become a Palliative Care Social Worker. These types of social workers focus on supporting individuals and families grappling with serious illnesses and provide vital emotional, spiritual, and practical assistance to patients and their loved ones for an improved quality of life. Alongside academic requirements, Palliative Care Social Workers must also possess emotional readiness to navigate the complexities of patient care.

Curious about exploring alternative career paths within the field of end-of-life care? Discover how to become a funeral celebrant.

Disclaimer: The content of this blog is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. This blog should not be relied upon as legal, financial, medical, accounting or tax advice.

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