Palliative Care Social Work Role in the ICU and Mentoring LearnersMelissa C Palmer, LCSW, ACHP-SW, APHSW-C, JD Jul 19, 2022
Palliative care is an emotionally taxing practice at times, and in our roles in the interdisciplinary team we are trained and encouraged to take care of our own psychological and spiritual well-being. Palliative care social workers are clinically trained to facilitate groups and debriefs, provide individual counseling, help process stressful events, and navigate complex family dynamics. Social workers focus on patient centered care, a cornerstone of palliative care, and we model this skill to our learners as well. As part of the interdisciplinary team, we balance the medical model with our clinical skills and interventions. We also help with processing the often sad and complicated situations that arise when patients and their significant others experience acute exacerbations of serious illness.
Our UCH palliative care inpatient program has the privilege of a palliative care rotation option for both medical students and residents; they are able to experience a different way of being in the hospital setting. The team models mutual support and the acknowledgement that what happens outside of work can impact our professional life and vice versa. When learners are present on the palliative care team, the interdisciplinary team regularly checks in, debriefs cases, and processes the experiences and feelings that arise. Palliative care social workers are active participants in the learning process and provide feedback and lessons from the social work lens.
Although many learners who rotate through our team choose other career pathways, they have learned valuable lessons about palliative care in the acute setting, how to practice self-care, and how palliative care can provide healing and comfort in even the most intense situations.
This article from the Journal of Palliative Social Work in Hospice and Palliative Care provides more insight into the social work role in complex and tenuous situations and how we can be role models to learners regarding resilience and healthy coping: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/15524256.2020.1745730