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Qualifications

First, let's get the bureaucratic stuff out of the way. The federal government's Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services require that hospice facilities employ professional social workers to assist patients and families with psychosocial needs. Hospice care teams also must include social workers.

Next, the National Association of Social Workers, along with the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, has developed a nationally recognized credential for social workers based in hospice and palliative care environments. The Certified Hospice and Palliative Social Worker designation (quite a mouthful, isn't it?) has several requirements you must meet.

You must possess a Master's Degree in Social Work from a currently accredited college or university. You cannot substitute another degree; your master's must be in social work. You must also have at least 3,000 hours of paid qualifying employment experience in an organizational or agency setting.

Whew! But wait, there's more! You must be currently working in a hospice or palliative care environment, or employed in this setting within five years prior to your application date. You must be supervised by an administrative staff or clinical social worker with at least a Master's in Social Work. This professional must supervise you at a rate of one hour for each 30 hours of service, or about one hour each week.

You'll also need to be a licensed social worker within your state. Professional organization memberships are also desirable, but are not strictly required for this certification. Finally, because you'll work directly with patients' physicians and nurses, you must have a working familiarity with medical and pharmacological (or medication-related) concepts and instructions.

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