From Crisis to Comfort: How Social Workers Enhance Palliative Care

What is the role of the social worker in palliative care?

The social worker is essential in coordinating care and support for the patient and their family. We focus on relieving the emotional and psychological distress of the patient and their family and help them come to terms with not only the diagnosis but also the prognosis. We also try to reduce the social burden that often comes with illness.

Ultimately, the goal is for the patient to begin to find meaning in their life and to ensure their wants and needs are met as far as possible- this is what I consider quality of life.

We also support the family by assisting them with getting “affairs” in order- whether it be their will, funeral policies, advanced care directives, or social grants, we will help them.

What challenges do you face as a social worker?

In my experience, having difficult conversations is challenging for all involved. We always encourage transparency from the patient, their family, and the healthcare team. We want the patient and their family to be part of the decision-making team; this can assist us in addressing any questions and emotional distress, repairing relationships, and addressing any “unfinished business.”

What do you find rewarding about being a social worker?

Working with other medical professionals (doctors, nurses, oncologists) and allied healthcare professionals is satisfying. Working within a multidisciplinary team and the passion I see from my colleagues is remarkable. I learn so much from them.

Do you have any encouraging words for patients and families?

Yes, never lose hope; be open to new opportunities to grow, heal relationships, and focus on things that MATTER. Managing a disease can be challenging and a powerful time for spiritual healing.

Can you recount an experience where you supported a patient or family?

The treating medical team referred a patient to me after she spent three months in the hospital due to her progressive cancer diagnosis. She had informed her husband, parents, and siblings that she was receiving curative treatment.

Before she was discharged, the hospital team disclosed the patient’s true prognosis to the family. They called me in for emotional support. I sat with the patient and her husband. I explained how important it is to have these open discussions, address unfinished business, and express love for one another.

My patient was very emotional- she explained that she has never been one to communicate or verbally express herself. During one of our sessions, she told her husband how much she cared and thanked him for caring for her.

I encouraged her husband to open up and explain to her parents and sisters to do the same. Supporting her and her family and seeing how everyone could share their feelings brought me immense gratitude.



By: Connie Zulch

Palliative Care Social worker