Researchers conducted a literature review to evaluate factors for meaningful social work involvement in palliative care. The results of the review were published in the journal Palliative Care & Social Practice.

In this study, researchers based in Belgium performed searches of peer-reviewed literature published from 2000 to April 2021 from Web of Science, Scopus, and PubMed databases. They identified 170 articles related to social work practice and themes involving palliative care. The main objectives of the study involved determining what prerequisites are needed for meaningful involvement in palliative care, and the prerequisites for that to be realized in practice.

Most identified studies were case reports, literature reviews, or cross-sectional studies. The researchers characterized 9 main requirements for meaningful involvement of social workers in palliative care practices. The most commonly mentioned prerequisite, in 108 of the source articles, was enhancing the competence and the confidence level of social workers. Other frequently mentioned prerequisites were pursuit of holistic/transformational social work and collaboration between the social worker and medical or paramedical professions.

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Prerequisites that were mentioned less often included having a clear role description and set of core competencies, evaluation and documentation of social work contributions, and increasing the job satisfaction for social workers while preventing burnout. Prerequisites that were mentioned the least often included having peer support through networks or organized mentorship, having manageable caseloads, and the early use of palliative services in the patient’s care.

The researchers also provided recommendations for how each of these prerequisites may be employed in practice. For example, 2 recommendations found in literature to increase competence and confidence included improving content related to palliative care in social work curricula and providing postgraduate or continuing education options for social workers. Pursuit of holistic or transformational social work may be enabled through educational content, use of palliative care earlier in the patient’s end-of-life process to allow for more interactions with patients, and sufficient staffing to allow more chances to incorporate holistic approaches.

Collaborations between social workers and medical or paramedical professionals can be enhanced through clearly articulating the value of social workers in the bio-psycho-social model of palliative care and cultivation of elementary medical knowledge or palliative care knowledge among social workers. To increase job satisfaction and decrease burnout, the authors recommended trainings to ensure social workers learn coping skills related to death, dying, and bereavement. Additional recommendations were also presented.

“The major contribution of this review is that it is the first step in presenting a comprehensive list of prerequisites for meaningful social work involvement in palliative care and the recommendations or evidence-based practices to realise them,” the researchers concluded in their review.


Taels B, Hermans K, Van Audenhove C, et al. How can social workers be meaningfully involved in palliative care? A scoping review on the prerequisites and how they can be realised in practice. Palliat Care Soc Pract. Published online November 30, 2021. doi:10.1177/26323524211058895