Almost 50 years ago, Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross introduced a five-stage grief model in her groundbreaking book On Death and Dying: What the Dying Have to Teach Doctors, Nurses, Clergy and Their Own Families. The 1969 work, based on the results of her interviews with the terminally ill, advanced a death-with-dignity approach that had been absent from medical care. In 1972, Kubler-Ross testified before a US Senate Committee on Aging that declining patients deserved end-stage treatment at home.
The world listened. As a result of her and others’ advocacy, the concept of hospice became institutionalized as the standard of care for treating end-of-life illness. By the early 1980s, hospice was funded by Medicare and Medicaid. Today, hospice care occurs not only in hospitals but also in privately run hospice centers. Kubler-Ross’ revolution has spawned an entire industry.
Whether hospice is offered in a hospital or a private setting, social workers have taken the lead in defining this practice area. Unlike much of social work, which is performed in settings where resources and funds are limited, the hospice industry is well funded and offers plenty of opportunities for social workers.
If you’re considering a career in social work and are uncertain of which specialty to choose, you might consider becoming a hospice social worker, an in-demand MSW job with the potential for high earnings and career growth. The need for hospice workers is so great that some employers offer lucrative sign-on bonuses. That’s pretty common in the business world, but in social work? Not so much.
Because hospice social work is so difficult and expertise-dependent, salaries for social workers are typically higher than they are for other social work practice areas. How much can you earn as a hospice social worker?
__Here are the top 10 states for hospice social worker annual pay, per ZipRecruiter:__
Not everyone has what it takes to care for the terminally ill. A career in this field may pay well, but it can be emotionally taxing as well.
Before the lure of a sign-on bonus clouds your judgment, weigh whether you are suited for this kind of work. Becoming a hospice social worker requires you to deal with loss and suffering on a daily basis. Social workers in this practice area must be able to cope with stress, family conflict and daily encounters with mortality.
To succeed in this role, self-care is essential. Self-care is important in all social work fields in order to manage the emotional toll of the job, but it is of particular importance in hospice work to avoid internalizing the loss social workers experience. In addition, it’s important for someone entering this profession to maintain strong boundaries between their personal and professional life.
The upside is that, when it comes to doing good, few professions are as inspiring. A career in hospice work enables you to make a big impact in a short period of time, with enduring effects. Those who have strong spiritual leanings may find a career in hospice social work particularly satisfying.
Beyond the psychological rewards, many hospice social workers also enjoy being an integral part of an interdisciplinary medical team where they lead in the decision making.
Another benefit: hospice social workers are highly regarded. Many experience positive affirmation from the community for performing such important work.
There are a couple of significant practical considerations:
- A Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in social work
- A license to practice or required social work certification
Credentials vary among careers, states, and territories. Licenses include:
- Certified Social Worker (CSW)
- Clinical Social Work Associate (CSWA)
- Licensed Advanced Practice Social Worker (LAPSW)
- Licensed Advanced Social Worker (LASW)
- Licensed Baccalaureate Social Worker (LBSW)
- Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)
- Licensed Graduate Social Worker (LGSW)
- Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW)
- Licensed Mental Health Professional (LMHP)
- Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW)
Most of these licenses require a Master’s or Doctorate, along with additional coursework or clinical internships. ( )
A survey of 2017 social work graduates by the National Social Work Workforce Study found that social workers with Master’s degrees and Doctorates made substantially more than those with no advanced degree. ( )
- People with MSW degrees made $13,000-plus more than those with only BSW degrees
- MSWs make more in large cities or urban clusters
- People with doctorates earned $20,000 to $25,000 more than people with only MSW degrees
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Hospice social workers work in several settings: hospice facilities within a hospital, independent hospice centers, and agencies that provide in-home visiting hospice care. Depending on a patient’s condition and finances, a combination of these settings may be utilized.
With these various work settings to choose from, you should consider whether you like being part of a bustling, dynamic medical center, or whether you prefer to work on your own schedule, administering care in someone’s home. If you are trying to juggle a family along with your job, a hospice social work position can offer you job flexibility.
Social workers are problem solvers, doers, counselors, advocates and facilitators. They help the terminally ill find a way to live as fully as possible despite their prognosis; at the same time, they help them prepare for the end. When people think of what hospice work entails, this is what often comes to mind.
But in the course of supporting a patient and their family through the end stages of life, hospice social workers do much more, utilizing their training to engage in a range of action-oriented tasks as well as counseling. In the hospice model of care, social workers help with medical treatment options, act as the care coordinator, perform crisis intervention when needed, and assist in administrative matters such as completing end-of-life directives and funeral planning. In addition, they must be proficient in navigating resources that can help with medical costs and insurance.
The process of becoming a social worker starts with earning a bachelor’s in social work (BSW) or a master’s in social work (MSW) from a Council for Social Work Education (CSWE) accredited educational institution.
To accelerate your career and earn the credentials most required for this field, you should consider a master’s in social work. The majority of hospice care positions require the MSW and may additionally require licensure as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) or Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW).
The majority of states require a social worker to hold an MSW from a CSWE school in order to be eligible for licensure. Accreditation is important, so make sure to attend a properly accredited program. You should also be familiar with state licensure requirements by degree held. A more technical guide discussing what you will need—including licensure and training—to practice professionally as a hospice worker in a Medicare-funded setting can be found in the Medicare Hospice Requirements document for social workers.
Having an MSW advantages any social worker seeking a job in hospice care. But there is additional certification available to further qualify a worker as a professional hospice care worker. This credential is offered as part of the NASW Speciality Certification Program in conjunction with the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO), and it is available for both BSW (the Certified Hospice & Palliative Care Social Worker (CHP-SW)) and MSW (the Advanced Certified Hospice & Palliative Care Social Worker (AHP-SW)) holders.
If you want to test the waters, you might start with a BSW and the AHP-SW. If you like the work you can jump into a MSW program as an advanced standing student and complete your master’s in social work in about a year. Obtaining these certifications will enhance your qualifications and employability, but it is up to the employer to determine job requirements.
Many would-be social workers go into hospice social work because they feel a pull to the unique population it serves. An equally compelling draw could be the job outlook for this profession. ZipRecruiter reports that, on average, a hospice social worker with a master’s in social work can earn an annual salary of $68,377, while the average salary for a generalized social worker, according to Payscale,is $45,068 per year.
According to the U. S. Census Bureau, by 2030 one in five Americans will be aged 65 or over. “By 2035, there will be 78.0 million people 65 years and older compared to 76.7… under the age of 18,” according to Census Bureau demographer Jonathan Vespa. That’s a dramatic shift in demographics toward the aged, making hospice care a growing and in-demand field in which your training will provide an advantage.
Although hospice social work is a high-reward profession, it can be enormously stressful. Dealing with death and dying on a daily basis is not for everyone.
Are you able to reframe the end-of-life experience into one that is reflective and peaceful? Social workers who enter this space see their work as inspiring, and less about endings.
If you can manage the emotional challenges of this profession, the salary rewards may be as great as the personal ones. The big employers in the field recognize the emotional stamina involved, and hospice social workers are highly compensated.
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