Social Workers' Role in End of Life Care

Healthcare Training Resource
July 27, 2012 — 992 views  
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The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) states that all social workers, regardless of their practice settings, will inevitably work with an individual or client who is facing life-limiting circumstances. Whether this is due to life-threatening illnesses, traumas, increased risk of suicide or another scenario, it is important for social workers to be able to attend to the emotional needs of the patient.

Social work practice settings that are most likely to require end of life care are extensive and wide ranging. These settings may include, but are not limited to, schools, courts, child welfare and family service agencies, substance abuse programs, employee assistance programs, mental health agencies, hospitals and hospices, day care, home care, nursing homes and senior centers. Therefore, it is easy to see how any social work may be required to play a role in end of life care.

However, social workers within nursing homes are required to provide end of life care support to residents. The NASW explains this skill is becoming increasingly important as advancements in technology, rising rates of chronic illness, increased number of elderly people and longer life expectancies are resulting in more patients facing the challenges and emotional needs associated with end of life care.

The source reveals end of life care refers to the multidimensional assessment and interventions that are offered to clients and their families as the patient approaches the end of his or her life. This assistance can take a variety of forms, from helping a client make legal or ethical decisions that will have an impact of his or her family legacy to helping family members determine what their loved ones may have wanted if the patient is unable to make the decision. The social worker helps clients and their families understand the complexities of the issues that surround this unique and important experience.

Specialists in end of life care should possess skills including resource linkage, case management and advocacy, as well as advanced skills such as conducting bioethics consultations, assessments and management of pain and suffering, according to a 2003 NASW report by authors Ellen Csikai and Mary Raymer.

Due to the delicate and sensitive nature of this work, the NASW believes social workers who may have a role in these circumstances should have specialized training in palliative and end of life care. Having knowledge in the basic principles of the ethics and values that surround end of life care can help a social worker evaluate ethical dilemmas and conflicts that may arise. End of life issues are often controversial, and having comprehensive knowledge of these and how to approach them is essential.

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