Radford research team tackles complex professional issue for hospice social workers
Questions about life's meaning and the afterlife have challenged thinkers from the earliest times.
Today's social workers who work as part of hospice teams are tasked with helping patients on their deathbeds for whom those questions loom large.
Associate Professor of Social Work Rana Duncan-Daston and two Master of Social Work candidates – Heather Bowden and Stephanie Foster MSW ’14 – have completed a year-long survey of the hospice social worker community to understand their ways of handling their patients' spiritual concerns.
Results of the project have been accepted for publication in a 2016 issue by the Journal of Religion & Spirituality in Social Work. The co-researchers will also present the project at the Annual Program Meeting of the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) in Denver, Colorado, Oct. 15-18.
CSWE is the sole accrediting agency for social work education and is a national association representing more than 2,500 individual members from graduate and undergraduate programs of professional social work education, professional institutions as well as social welfare agencies.
Titled "A Look into Spirituality in Social Work Practice within the Hospice Settings," the project looks to explore how social workers viewed their own spirituality and how they have been shaped by their practice in hospice, especially related to being thrust into an unfamiliar role of providing spiritual care for the terminally ill. Duncan-Daston and Bowden initially presented preliminary findings to the Waldron College of Health and Human Services community at the second Interprofessional Symposium and Expo (IPS&E) last spring.
"We wanted to find out if Social Work education is doing enough for professionals in training them with knowledge about issues of religious and spiritual diversity and helping their self-awareness which is vital to successful work with hospice patients," said Duncan-Daston.
Duncan-Daston said social workers may be asked to step in for hospice chaplains or an individual’s religious counselor as they serve on the hospice care management teams.
"It can be a troublesome issue for social workers and educators as our curriculums don’t provide a foundation for professionals from which to deal with religious diversity," Duncan-Daston said. "With this project we are trying to determine where we need to be and to add to the conversation of voices talking about the importance of bio/psycho/social/spiritual care of hospice patients."
Bowden, whom Duncan-Daston said made major contributions to the project, has chosen to become a hospice social worker as a result of the project and her interactions with the social workers with whom she came in contact during the project. She is currently working in Salem at the Veterans Administration Medical Center as part of its hospice efforts.
"I have been amazed to find so many other who share my passion," Bowden said. "It is a privilege to represent my area and Radford University by contributing to the research into my profession."