Defining Core Competencies for Generalist-Level Palliative Social Work

Myra Glajchen, Cathy Berkman, Shirley Otis-Green, Gary L. Stein, Tom Sedgwick, Mercedes Bern-Klug, Grace Christ, Ellen Csikai, Deirdre Downes, Susan Gerbino, Barbara Head, Debra Parker-Oliver, Deborah Waldrop, Russell K. Portenoy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Context: Care provided to seriously ill patients by frontline social workers is a component of generalist-level palliative care. The core competencies for high-quality generalist-level palliative social work are necessary to promote training curricula and best practices but have not yet been defined in the U.S. Objective: The objective of this study was to develop consensus-derived core competencies for generalist-level palliative social work. Methods: Fifty-five proposed social work competencies were categorized by the eight domains of palliative care identified by the National Consensus Project for Quality Palliative Care. The competencies were rated by 41 regionally dispersed, Master's level social workers selected through purposive and snowball sampling using a Delphi method. Each was rated as essential for generalist-level palliative social work, acceptable with modifications, or rejected based on the judgment that it was not essential for generalist-level palliative social work or was outside the scope of practice. Consensus was defined as >70% agreement to accept or reject a competency. Three review rounds were needed to achieve consensus on all competencies. Results: Two competencies were added to the original list. Of the 57 proposed competencies, 41 were accepted (19 after modification) and 16 were rejected. Competencies in the social, spiritual, cultural, and ethical/legal aspects of care domains were relatively more likely to be accepted compared with those in structure and processes of care, physical care, psychological care, and care of patient at the end of life. Conclusion: The 41 consensus-derived competencies for generalist-level palliative social work may inform the development of training curricula and standards for high-quality care.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)886-892
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Pain and Symptom Management
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2018


  • Generalist social work
  • clinical practice
  • domains
  • education
  • hospice
  • palliative care
  • training

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Nursing
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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