Date of Award

Summer 6-19-2013

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Social Work (DSW)

First Advisor

Joretha Bourjolly

Second Advisor

Paul Kinniry

Third Advisor

Andrew McCormick


Death occurs often in the intensive care unit (ICU), which makes it a natural place for the social worker to collaborate with the interdisciplinary team to provide end-of-life care to patients and families. However, the role of the social worker in the ICU varies because social workers do not have a formal role in providing end-of-life care. This study utilized a qualitative approach to better understand how social workers perceive their role in the ICU managing patients and families at end-of-life. The goal of this study sought to uncover the factors that aid or impede the social worker's ability to perform that role, as well as the ways education contributes to the social workers competency in that role. The researcher interviewed 17 master’s degree level ICU social workers who are currently assigned to a minimum of one ICU unit on their caseload. This study found that participants perceive their role as discharge planners, counselors, advocate and educators. The major impediment to end-of-life care is heavy caseloads, time constraints, and lack of an ICU interdisciplinary team. The study also found inconsistency in the MSW programs and CEU opportunities for the participants. As a result, there was a breadth of comfort levels and perception on what the role of the ICU social worker should be. Further research is needed to identify ways to improve the field of palliative care social work, potentially through interventions such as improved end-of-life care training in MSW programs, education about the social work role on an interdisciplinary team, in addressing end-of-life ethical dilemmas, and improve on-the-job training for social workers currently practicing in ICU.

Included in

Social Work Commons