Guide to Becoming a Hospice and Palliative Care Social Worker

Hospice and palliative care social workers work alongside medical workers to provide end-of-life care for patients. If you decide to pursue this challenging and rewarding branch of social work, you may need additional training and certification depending on your educational background. Below, we provide you with some resources to help you pursue your career as a hospice and palliative care social worker.

What is a Palliative and Hospice Social Worker?

Palliative social work and hospice social work have subtle, usually overlapping distinctions. Hospice social work is a category within palliative care that specifically deals with end-of-life care for people with terminal illnesses. Palliative care may or may not deal with people suffering from terminal illnesses; the focus is on managing symptoms rather than curing a condition that might be incurable. 

Your day-to-day responsibilities in this field will vary. In general, social workers in palliative care settings help all parties—patients, medical professionals, families—communicate with each other.

Sponsored Online Social Work Programs

University of Southern California

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Master of Social Work (MSW)

The MSW@USC is the online Master of Social Work from top-ranked USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work. USC offers virtual and in-person field education, and students focus on adults, youth or social change.

  •  Minimum completion time: 16 months
  • Online classes taught by USC faculty 
  • Virtual field training to build skills and confidence

University of Denver

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Master of Social Work (MSW)

The University of Denver’s Online MSW Program is delivered by its top-ranked school of social work and offers two programs. Students can earn their degree in as few as 12 months for the Online Advanced-Standing MSW or 27 months for the Online MSW.

  • Complete the Online Advanced-Standing MSW in as few as 12 months if you have a BSW; if you do not have a BSW, the Online MSW Program may be completed in as few as 27 months.
  • No GRE Required
  • Mental Health and Trauma or Health, Equity and Wellness concentrations

Fordham University

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Master of Social Work (MSW)

Fordham’s skills-based, online MSW program integrates advanced relevant social work competencies, preparing students to serve individuals and communities while moving the profession forward. This program includes advanced standing and traditional MSW options.

  •  Traditional and advanced standing online MSW options are available.
  • There are four areas of focus: Individuals and Families, Organizations and Community, Evaluation, and Policy Practice and Advocacy.
  • Pursue the degree on a full-time or part-time track.

Simmons University

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Master of Social Work (MSW)

Aspiring direct practitioners can earn their MSW online from Simmons University in as few as 12 months. GRE scores are not required, and the program offers full-time, part-time, accelerated, and advanced standing tracks.

  • Prepares students to pursue licensure, including LCSW 
  • Full-time, part-time, and accelerated tracks 
  • Minimum completion time: 12 months

Syracuse University

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Master of Social Work (MSW)

Syracuse University’s online Master of Social Work program does not require GRE scores to apply and is focused on preparing social workers who embrace technology as an important part of the future of the profession. Traditional and Advanced Standing tracks are available. 

  • Traditional and Advanced Standing tracks
  • No GRE required
  • Concentrate your degree in integrated practice or clinical practice

Baylor University

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Master of Social Work (MSW)

Complete the Master of Social Work online program at Baylor University in as few as 12 months. Serve populations in Texas and around the world while ethically integrating faith and social work practice. No GRE required.

  • Address injustice from a strengths-based perspective
  • Ethically integrates faith and social work practice
  • Serve as a trusted resource for clients, no matter their personal background
  • Complete the MSW online program in as few as 12 months

Howard University

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Master of Social Work (MSW)

The online Master of Social Work program from Howard University School of Social Work prepares students for advanced direct or macro practice in culturally diverse communities. Two concentrations available: Direct Practice and Community, Administration, and Policy Practice. No GRE. Complete in as few as 12 months.

  • Concentrations: Direct Practice and Community, Administration, and Policy Practice
  • Complete at least 777-1,000 hours of agency-based field education
  • Earn your degree in as few as 12 months

Case Western Reserve University

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Master of Social Work (MSW)

In as few as a year and a half, you can prepare for social work leadership by earning your Master of Social Work online from Case Western Reserve University’s school of social work.

  • CSWE-accredited
  • No GRE requirement
  • Complete in as few as one and a half years

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Steps to Become a Palliative Care and Hospice Social Worker

Below are some common steps to become a palliative care and hospice social worker:

1. Complete Your Social Work Education

A common first step to becoming a palliative care or hospice care social worker is obtaining an appropriate background in generalized social work education at an accredited school. For some entry-level jobs, a bachelor’s degree in social work or a related major, such as psychology, is sufficient; some jobs in the social work field (such as aides) may only require a high school diploma. More commonly, however, social workers obtain a Master of Social Work (MSW) to meet state licensing guidelines.

2. Gain Fieldwork Experience

Education may need to be supplemented with fieldwork, which both BSW and MSW programs will likely require. Specifications for required hours will vary by state, requirements such as these are not uncommon.

3. Apply for and Pass the ASWB Exam

To obtain a social work license, you likely will need to pass a licensing exam administered by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB).

4. Apply for Licensure

Once you pass your ASWB exam and scores are sent to your state of practice, you may then apply for state licensure as a licensed social worker.

5. Pursue Employment

Finally, you will need to look for work in palliative care or at a hospice. You may already have contacts through your fieldwork; otherwise, you can search for jobs using keywords such as “hospice social worker,” “end-of-life social worker,” or “palliative care social worker.”

Should I Become a Hospice Social Worker?

If you have already decided you would like to become a social worker, you should evaluate other branches of social work before you settle on your social work career. Social workers deal with all kinds of societal issues, and their specializations may include foster care, education, homelessness, mental illness and substance abuse. Social workers may also choose to focus on the same problem from different scales—for example, a substance abuse social worker could work one-on-one with people with addiction issues, or help develop programs to treat addiction.

You should also evaluate the type of social work degree you’d like to pursue. Careers for those with a BSW will vary from careers for those with a Doctorate of Social Work (DSW).

Degree Programs for Hospice and Palliative Social Workers

Most people interested in earning a social work degree after their bachelor’s education may then choose to earn a Master of Social Work (MSW). There are different types of master’s degrees that meet different needs. Some of these include:

  • Master of Social Work (MSW) programs: These are what you typically think of when you think of graduate school – in-person classes, on a campus. These can provide networking and teaching opportunities that online MSW programs don’t have.
  • Online MSW programs: These are particularly good for those who don’t live near a major university, or who already have a full-time job and want the flexibility of online classes.
  • MSW programs with no GRE requirement: For many master’s degree programs, applicants need to take the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE), a lengthy standardized test. MSW programs without this requirement can save you time when you’re applying for schools.
  • Advanced standing MSW programs: These are for people who studied social work or a related field in their undergraduate education. These degrees can be completed more quickly than a traditional MSW program.

You can also apply for Doctorate of Social Work (DSW) programs, which take longer to complete and are more challenging but necessary for many academic and research-oriented social work jobs.

Skills Needed for Hospice and Palliative Care

Though the skills you will use may vary from job to job, there are some skills that all hospice social workers and palliative social workers would do well to learn, retrieved from the National Association of Social Work (NASW) Social Workers in Hospice and Palliative Care Occupational Profile (PDF, 4.6 MB):

  • Counseling and psychotherapy
  • Providing psychosocial education
  • Facilitation of advance care planning and lifespan planning
  • Crisis intervention
  • Conflict mediation
  • Patient advocacy
  • Interdisciplinary communication

What is the Role of a Hospice Social Worker?

Hospice social workers act as advocates for patients and their families dealing with end-of-life decisions, emotions and medical care. Social workers can also ensure that patients and families get the care they need beyond physical care—making sure they have a connection to their communities, for instance, or have appropriate mental health treatment. This can mean that hospice social workers sometimes act as facilitators between a patient and other resources and organizations.

Work Settings of a Hospice Social Worker

Typically, these kinds of hospice and palliative social workers work in a hospice—a hospital alternative focused entirely on end-of-life care. The amount of palliative care programs in hospitals has been rising since 2000. Nursing homes and assisted living facilities also hire palliative care workers. Additionally, many palliative social workers work in more traditional homes, helping to ensure that patients have access to appropriate medical care and other necessities and comforts.

How Much do Hospice Social Workers make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median pay of all social workers is $51,760 per year—though the BLS doesn’t break down this median pay by specialization, and your salary may vary based on location. You will want to consider your potential salary as a social worker when applying for graduate programs, some of which may cost as much as your expected annual pay.

Hospice Social Work Certification

Licensing requirements vary by state. The two types of licenses you may find are licensed master social worker (LMSW) and licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), the difference generally being that social workers with an LCSW can apply clinical services in therapy for clients. To obtain one of these licenses, social workers must pass their appropriate ASWB Social Work Exam.

There are additional certifications social workers can receive that are specifically for palliative care and hospice social work. For instance, the NASW offers a Certified Hospice and Palliative Social Worker (CHP-SW) credential, as does the Center to Advance Palliative Care (CAPC). This certification is not a requirement to work in palliative care and hospice social work, but it can be useful for job seekers and those who wish to further hone their skills.

Hospice Social Work Resources

Hospice social workers have dedicated and established professional organizations that can assist them throughout their careers. Some of these include:

Information on this page was last updated in June 2021.