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Hospice Social Work

Written by Jack Levinson

hospice support

We all hope to reach the end of our lives with comfort, dignity, and the care and support of others. Hospice social workers are the professionals who ensure that this can be possible for every person, serving the challenging but deeply meaningful role of an end-of-life care provider.

Hospice social work is by no means easy, but it is an incredible act of service with deep emotional rewards.

After all, hospice social workers don’t only take responsibility for those at the end of their lives. Their assistance also provides deep support to their family and friends as they process the decline of a loved one and make room for the first stages of grief. Knowing that a person they care about is in good hands is a source of relief and inner peace during experiences that can be extremely painful and emotional to process.

So what does hospice social work involve, and how easy is it to become one? Read on to learn everything you need to know about the field so that you can take the next steps in becoming an advanced certified hospice and palliative care social worker.

The Role of a Hospice Social Worker

Hospice social workers are entrusted with the care of individuals who are reaching the end of their lives, offering compassion and supportive services to enhance the quality of life of those who are dying. They serve as an intermediary between medical teams, patients, and their families, helping to navigate the complex emotional and logistical aspects of end-of-life care.

Social worker hospice jobs involve a mix of emotional and practical support that can be a source of light during profoundly difficult times. 

For individuals with terminal illnesses, knowing that there is an individual focused on their needs and priorities can be a tremendous source of strength and healing. Families similarly feel relief to share their burden with a professional who is able to step up and take responsibility so that they can process their emotions. Indeed, one of the most important forms of assistance that hospice social workers offer is a listening ear to those in hospice care and their families, helping them express their fears and anxieties and providing comfort and insight to ease the process for everyone.

Palliative care social workers also provide a significant amount of practical aid to those in hospice. This may involve coordinating with various healthcare professionals, arranging for home health services, or helping families access community resources. Social workers collaborate with interdisciplinary teams to ensure that the patient’s physical, emotional, and social needs are comprehensively met, striving to enhance the overall quality of life and comfort for both the patient and their loved ones.

Social workers who work in palliative care contexts also often take on an educator role for their patients and their families, helping demystify the complex healthcare system, treatment options, and other end-of-life decisions. This gives individuals and their families a greater sense of control and understanding during a time that might otherwise feel out of hand.

Hospice social workers also provide bereavement support to families who have just lost a loved one. This is as complex and delicate a role as supporting those at the end of their lives. After all, the early stages of grief are often overwhelming and confusing. Social workers in hospice care are able to provide reason, clarity, and calm that can help grieving individuals find the counseling and other resources they need to cope with loss. It’s not easy work, but its significance in the lives of those supported will never be forgotten.

Providing empathy, lucidity, and tranquility during a moment of pain is an invaluable service that can make our most difficult times more bearable.

Those who perform this work often feel they are called to it. Indeed, for many social workers, providing end-of-life support is nothing short of a spiritual endeavor whose rewards are immaterial but deeply felt.

The Evolution of Hospice Social Work

Over the past few decades, hospice social work has undergone a significant evolution, reflecting a changing understanding of end-of-life care and a newfound understanding of the support that those in hospice and their families need at a critical moment.

First and foremost, hospice care services have expanded greatly, taking a more holistic approach to meet the emotional and practical needs of patients. This can include integrative medicine practices, which combine traditional medical practices with complementary therapeutic models. It can also involve non-traditional therapeutic methods like art and music therapy, social activities, and other mood-lifting diversions for those facing grave circumstances.

Like in so many fields, technology has also shifted the field of hospice and palliative care social work. Telemedicine and other digital health tools make it easier than ever to keep patients and their families connected, as well as to connect different members of interdisciplinary teams. This allows hospice care social workers to be more up-to-the-minute in their awareness of patient needs. Further, those in remote or underserved areas have better access to care as a result of these services.

Finally, a critical development in the field of hospice social work has been a newfound understanding of the need for cultural competence in the field. Indeed, different cultures treat the end-of-life period in profoundly different ways, and it is of great importance to patients and their families to approach this time in a way that is aligned with their background and traditions. In some cases, this involves religion and spirituality; in others, it is a question of meeting more general procedural expectations. Whatever a family’s expectations are, it is crucial for a hospice care social worker to meet these needs so that they can focus on the other burdensome elements of end-of-life care.

Becoming an Advanced Certified Hospice and Palliative Care Social Worker

The steps to becoming a hospice social worker are similar to those of any other form of social work. However, one’s work during this time must be focused on hospice care settings, and there are additional field work hours one must complete to gain full competency in the field.

Social work professionals in hospice work are known as Advanced Hospice and Palliative Care Social Workers (ACHP-SWs). This title is conferred by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), who set the guidelines and expectations to ensure that all hospice workers have received extensive training before taking on their sensitive responsibilities.

Below are the steps one needs to take in order to become an ACHP-SW:

1. Obtain Your Master of Social Work Degree

Like any other field of social work, one must hold an MSW from an accredited institution in order to become a hospice social worker. During this time, you can focus your work on hospice care, giving yourself an orientation into the field that can help direct your professional efforts. Your field work internship can be an especially illuminating experience, showing you the ins and outs of the job and providing emotional exposure so you understand the intensity of the work.

2. Complete Twenty (Or More) Continuing Education Units Related to Palliative Care

Because hospice care social work is so specialized, it is required that prospective ACHP-SWs complete additional courses focused on hospice care in order to qualify for their certification. Many forms of social work do not involve this step, but those who have completed this coursework come into their careers at a higher level of specialization and skill than those who are not expected to complete them.

3. Complete Two Additional Years of Supervised Work Experience

In the same spirit as the required continuing education courses, those who work in hospice care are expected to complete two years of supervised work experience before receiving their certification. This is essentially your first professional experience in the field (in addition to your field work hours in your MSW), and provides hands-on training so that you are fully aware of your job expectations by the time you are a full-fledged social worker.

4. Obtain Your Social Work License

To become a social worker of any type, you must hold a valid social work license. In the state of North Carolina, this is overseen by the North Carolina Social Work Certification and Licensing Board (NCSWCLB).

Those who wish to perform counseling or other therapeutic services should pursue their Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) certification. If you wish to only perform roles in the logistics and coordination context, you may pursue a Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) certification.

Some people choose to pursue their ACHP-SW standing after gaining significant social work experience in other fields. This means you will already be equipped with your social work license and can simply provide documentation of this when you apply for your ACHP-SW certification.

Hospice Social Work Jobs

Hospice social workers can work in a variety of settings, including but not limited to hospices themselves. They can also work in hospitals and clinics, at-home settings, nursing homes and inpatient treatment centers, and more.

The goal of hospice workers is to provide care for people from all walks of life, with all sorts of needs.

This means the hospice social worker job description can vary depending on where you work and which communities you focus on.

Below are some of the top hospice social work jobs:

  • Hospice social worker
  • Bereavement coordinator
  • Pediatric hospice social worker
  • Community outreach and education coordinator
  • Palliative care social worker
  • Hospice volunteer coordinator
  • Psychosocial coordinator
  • Hospice case manager
  • Spiritual care counselor
  • Crisis intervention social worker
  • Hospice program manager / director

As you can see, these jobs involve a range of responsibilities and areas of specialty. As a hospice social worker, you will be able to gravitate toward the path that is best suited to your skills and perspective.

Hospice Social Worker Salary

Though the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not provide specific salary information about hospice social workers, their data on healthcare social workers in North Carolina can provide a rough guideline on how ACHP-SWs in the state are paid.

The BLS reports that healthcare social workers in the state of North Carolina earn a mean annual salary of $63,110 per year. This is not far from the national average salary for healthcare social workers throughout the United States, which comes out to $62,760 per year.

Specialized social workers are frequently paid more for their work. Since ACHP-SWs have received a more extensive education than many other social workers, they can have reason to hope for higher salaries as a result. The BLS’ 90th percentile statistics for healthcare social workers nationwide can again serve as a good guideline for hospice social workers, and the news is good: the top 90th percentile of healthcare social workers earn $87,830 or more. Especially for those working their way toward seniority in the field, this can be a source of motivation in the long-term.

Data sourced from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ May 2022 report, accessed December 2023.


What does a hospice social worker do?

A hospice social worker is a trained professional providing supportive services to those in end-of-life care and their families. This can include counseling and other services to support people through the emotional hardship of end-of-life treatment, as well as coordination and case management to ensure that individuals in hospice are receiving meticulous individualized care.  

What certification do I need to become a hospice social worker?

To take on the full responsibilities of a hospice social worker, one must become an Advanced Certified Hospice and Palliative Care Social Worker (ACHP-SW). To learn the steps to receiving this certification, see the section “Becoming an Advanced Certified Hospice and Palliative Care Social Worker” above.

Do I need to take continuing education classes to become a hospice social worker?

Yes. After obtaining their MSW degrees, aspiring hospice social workers are expected to complete twenty units of continuing education courses that are directly related to hospice and palliative care social work. This ensures that you have the knowledge and skill needed to take on the immense responsibilities of a hospice social worker.

Are hospice social workers nurses?

No. Though hospice social workers work in collaboration with nurses, their specializations are more primarily concerned with the emotional and practical needs of those in end-of-life care as well as their families’. Nurses, meanwhile, frequently perform routine medical procedures and administer medications. This is its own separate skill set, requiring a nursing degree. It’s important to think through the type of care you would be best suited to provide before embarking on your educational journey to become a hospice social worker.