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What are social work students being taught about palliative care?

  • Gary L. Stein (a1), Cathy Berkman (a2) and Bonnie Pollak (a1)



Palliative social workers have taken steps to increase the numbers of social workers trained and competent to deliver effective psychosocial palliative care. Despite these developments, masters of social work (MSW) programs have only begun to develop curricula preparing students for entry-level practice. This study sought to determine the type and extent of content areas included in MSW courses dedicated to palliative care or with content related to palliative care practice.


A cross-sectional study using an online questionnaire was conducted. All 248 accredited MSW programs in the United States and 32 programs in Canada were invited to participate. Participants were asked to name the courses in their MSW program that were dedicated to, or included content on, palliative care, and submit the syllabi for these courses. Data comprised course content for each class session and required readings. A grounded theory approach was used to identify the topics covered.


Of the 105 participating programs that responded to the survey, 42 submitted 70 syllabi for courses with at least some palliative care content. There were 29 topics identified. The most common topic was grief, loss, and bereavement, followed closely by behavioral and mental health issues, and supporting family and friends; cultural perspectives and advance care planning were also common topics. For the 10 syllabi from courses dedicated to palliative care, supporting family was the most common topical area, followed closely by interprofessional practice and advance care planning.

Significance of results

Although there are many challenges to introducing palliative care content into MSW programs, including unqualified faculty and competing course material and electives of equally compelling content, there are model curricula for dedicated palliative care courses. With the large growth of palliative care programs, the time is ripe to add specialty palliative care courses and to add palliative care content into existing courses.


Corresponding author

Author for correspondence: Gary L. Stein, Wurzweiler School of Social Work—Yeshiva University, 2495 Amsterdam Avenue, New York, NY 10033. Email:


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What are social work students being taught about palliative care?

  • Gary L. Stein (a1), Cathy Berkman (a2) and Bonnie Pollak (a1)


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