Educating Social Workers in Palliative and End-of-Life Care (ESPEC)

Educating Social Workers in Palliative and End-of-Life Care (ESPEC)

MJHS & NASW Partnership Program

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Educating Social Workers in Palliative and End-of-Life Care (ESPEC) is a brand-new course for practicing social workers that aims to improve knowledge and skills in palliative social work with over six hours of interactive online coursework and four hours of instructor-led training. The online training includes video of patient scenarios that social workers would likely encounter The instructor-led portion of the training uses reflective exercises, mentored role plays and facilitated small group discussion. More information coming soon!

Learning Objectives

  1. Identify best practices for front-line health social workers to integrate key palliative care principles into their clinical work
  2. Recognize the knowledge base and practice skills necessary to pursue competency in palliative social work
  3. Identify the skills necessary for interprofessional communication and visibility in palliative social work


6.0 hours CE for online independently paced training* completion of the online modules is required prior to participation in the instructor-led training 
4.0 hours CE for instructor-led training *can be taken in person or online

We welcome real-time and post-training feedback about this new program so that we can continue to refine it in preparation for national roll-out.

Course Overview

Part I

Module 0
Provides an overview of the ESPEC program, structure, framework, navigation and functionality.

Introductory Module
Reviews the principles and domains of palliative care identified by the National Consensus Project for Quality Palliative Care and explains the benefits of integrating primary palliative social work competencies into health social work.

Module 1: Domain 1
Structure and Processes of Care: Identifies the importance of the social workers’ biopsychosocial-spiritual assessment to the provision of person-centered, family-focused, culturally congruent care.

Module 2: Domain 2
Physical Aspects of Care: Highlights best social work practices to address physical concerns in serious illness, including pain and symptom management from the perspective of addressing the multidimensional aspects of suffering.

Module 3: Domain 3
Psychological and Psychiatric Aspects of Care: Identifies the psychological impact of serious illness on patients and families and the social worker’s role in promoting adjustment.

Module 4: Domain 4
Social Aspects of Care: Identifies the social worker’s role in addressing the social determinants of health focusing on the impact of the social environment, family structure, and social network on patient well-being.

Module 5: Domain 5
Spiritual, Religious and Existential Aspects of Care: Identifies social work strategies to recognize spiritual and existential distress and to promote patients’ and family caregivers’ religious and spiritual coping.

Module 6: Domain 6
Cultural Aspects of Care: Identifies social work practices for promoting culturally congruent, person-centered, family-focused care with attention to issues of social justice, diversity and health equity.

Module 7: Domain 7
Care of the Patient Nearing the End of Life: Recognizes the role of the health social worker in promoting shared decision-making and advance care planning as well as understanding common concerns related to anticipatory grief and bereavement.

Module 8: Domain 8
Ethical and Legal Aspects of Care: Identifies the health social worker’s contribution to promoting an ethical framework supportive of patient preferences.

Part II: Virtual Instructor-Lead Training (VILT) Workshop

Social workers who complete the self-study modules can sign up for a 2.5 hour Virtual Instructor-Led Training (VILT) Workshop. Content will include group learning activities designed to improve confidence and competency in four key skills: biopsychosocial-spiritual assessment, advance care planning, family meetings, and interprofessional communication. Attendance at each VILT session is limited. In preparation for the VILT workshop, participants will review a patient narrative and be invited to submit a photo and brief bio to build a community of practice.


  1. To illustrate the use of comprehensive biopsychosocial-spiritual assessment as the foundation for person-centered, family-focused, culturally congruent care planning.
  2. To identify key social work activities that enhance the effectiveness of the family meeting.
  3. To recognize key social work opportunities in advance care planning.
  4. To identify specific activities to improve interprofessional communication.
  5. To identify three specific action steps to integrate ESPEC concepts in the health social worker’s home setting

Part III: Mentorship

Social workers who complete the online and Virtual Instructor-Led Training courses are eligible to participate in monthly mentorship sessions following completion of the last course. The monthly mentorship sessions, led by an ESPEC trainer, will be focused on implementation of new practice skills and challenges facing front-line social workers. There will no fee for the mentorship sessions and no social work CEUs.

Part IV: Leadership Train-the-Trainer Workshops

Social workers who complete the online and Virtual Instructor-Led Training courses can sign up for additional ESPEC leadership training opportunities through programming available at the Social Work Hospice and Palliative Care Network website.