DHGE-CommonSpirit Health Social Work Fellowship to Include Hospice, Health Equity Training

As the hospice and palliative care workforce dwindles, some stakeholders are hard at work to develop career paths for staff in related disciplines, including social work.

The workforce solutions provider Dignity Health Global Education (DHGE) is collaborating with CommonSpirit Health on a new Social Work Fellowship Program that will include training in hospice and palliative care. The program is designed to support social workers in the early years of working in the field and develop smooth pathways to licensure.

“Everyone talks about the workforce shortage in health care, and a lot of that results in difficulties and continuity of care, which can be catastrophic for patients. People end up back in the hospital,” Julie DeLoia, chief academic officer at DHGE, told Hospice News. ”Social work is also struggling with finding enough folks and getting them interested in the medical field. So it was very important to help support them as they transition into the medical field. The end result is a better, more supportive patient and family experience.”


Social workers have been leaving the health care industry in record numbers, including those who work in hospice care.

COVID-19 didn’t help. As of October 2021, attrition rates for social workers were 35% higher than they were pre-pandemic, according to data from the Peterson-Kaiser Family Foundation Health System Tracker.

The new fellowship is designed to staunch those losses by fostering career growth, improving competency and providing education on diversity, equity and inclusion, as well as training on social determinants of health and the continuity of care.


At its outset, the program will train 50 to 75 social workers annually at CommonSpirit Health, but this number is expected to grow over time, according to Josh Brewster, the company’s system director of social work and vulnerable populations.

“We have a lot of social workers that come to us very excited, often with a really strong academic background. But it’s that first couple of years in practice where in some cases they’re just one of the few or potentially the only social worker in that setting. So how do we support them early in their career and how do they grow?” Brewster told Hospice News. “A big question is how social workers early in their career work towards their clinical licensure. That’s really valuable for social workers, but it’s also really valuable for us as an organization.”

The CommonSpirit health system extends across 21 states, including 140 hospitals and more than 1,000 care sites.

Social workers participating in the program will receive exposure to hospice and palliative care principles, an area that is often sorely lacking in traditional education and training.

“This is going to become a big part of a lot of our ethics discussions, and how we communicate with families and patients about the situation a patient is in. We also are focusing a lot on social work through the lifespan,” Brewster said. “When we get to the end of life, that’s a patient population we need to focus on. Some of our social workers are very engaged in end-of-life and goals-of-care discussions, either as part of palliative care teams or because they work on units that tend to have a lot of patients that are receiving hospice palliative care services.”

The fellowship’s training program is tech-enabled, DeLoia indicated. The program uses an online learning management system, Canvas, augmented by an interactive platform designed by DHGE to foster communication and a sense of community among candidates. It also includes live instruction via Zoom.

Some aspects of the program are gamified, DeLoia indicated.

“It actually is a great motivator. Behavior theory is always part of what we do, and [gamification] actually does drive discussion. Here we have places for the learners to interact,” she said. “In a program like this, creating community, and network is incredibly important.”

Aspects of the fellowship are also designed to help build a more diverse cadre of clinical social workers who are knowledgeable about health equity issues.

This can be a factor in clinical licensure. An analysis by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) found that pass rates for licensing exams were uneven among racial minorities and lower-income students. ASWB concluded that many of those social workers lacked access to continuing education and mentorship.

“That is one of the driving forces behind this. We wanted to address anti-racism, diversity, equity, and inclusion. It’s one of our underlying core themes, a thread that runs through all of our other topics,” Brewster said. “We’re just infusing that into every conversation, every part of this.” 

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