Advice from hospice social workers on starting a new position

Yay me! Santa brought me a brand new hospice social work position! I am thrilled.

For the last six months, I took a break from full-time hospice to do my part-time Army journalist gig full-time. It’s a fun job for sure: helicopter rides, expensive camera equipment, travel, arguing with senior officers about writing styles. And it’s far less emotionally challenging than working in hospice. Goals such peace and acceptance in the presence of death and grief require more patience and effort than promoting the military’s messaging does.

I am far more excited about returning to hospice than I ever was about being a full-time soldier. I have never felt more aligned with my purpose than when working as a hospice social worker.

Since some time has passed, I see an opportunity to start again with a beginner’s mind. I can let what I’ve learned so far in the role sink far to the back of my mind, and begin this role with a fresh attitude. With this in mind, I asked the Hospice Social Work Support Group on Facebook for their good ideas about how to approach a new hospice job.

If you ask a social worker for advice, you’ll get some. If you ask a forum of social workers, you get a wealth of insight. Here are the responses:

  • Don’t wait to do your charting. Do it the same day or the next morning.
  • Acknowledge and respect the skill set/ wheelhouse that each discipline has and again, engage them as a humble listener and eager learner
  • viewing patients and their families as experts on their lives. I entered their home as a humble listener and eager learner. Being a student of their life stories, thoughts, and feelings
  • Observe, observe, observe!
  • Take full advantage of training. Hopefully, you get to shadow another social worker for a while. Also, I find it helpful to have a good “poker face” because just when you thought you have seen it all you have not!
  • Don’t worry about proving yourself; you already got the job. Do lots of listening at first to figure out the culture of your agency and team.
  • Confidence in the skills you bring as a Social Worker. Work hard for your patients and help your team understand the best ways to work with them and their caregivers.
  • Boundaries!
  • Don’t give out your number to patients and their families.
  • Don’t veer into the nurses’ territory with meds and medical advice to patients.
  • Be a good communicator with your nurses and supervisor. Be respectful and pay attention to the staff that has the most experience. Listen and learn. Practice self-care and appropriate boundaries.

What would you add? Feel free to use the comments below to share your thoughts.

Thanks to everyone who contributed an idea! I now feel ready to jump back into this amazingly dynamic role. 

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Acceptance: element #4 of the hospice social worker mindset


  1. Recognize the limits of what you can do. These patients and families may or may not be open to counseling, and often times the family dysfunction is so extensive that you are not going to be able to fix it. Sometimes your role is to help the rest of the team navigate and avoid the landlines!

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