The first evidence-based certification for social workers in hospice and palliative care is coming soon!

SWHPN is excited to announce that the development of a new evidence-based certification for social workers in hospice and palliative care is currently underway. The first exam for the Advanced Palliative Hospice Social Worker Certification (APHSW-C) will be held in January 2019; registration for the exam opens on November 1, 2018.

Questions and Answers about the APHSW-C Certification

What's the history of the certification program?
The first meeting of the SWHPN Certification Committee took place in 2016, after leaders in the field recognized the special skills and knowledge that social workers bring to the practice of hospice and palliative care. Led by Dr. Barbara Head, this committee explored funding opportunities and developed a proposal for an evidence-based certification for social workers in hospice and palliative care - the first of its kind.

Through a generous grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, sufficient funding was received to develop the program and exam for the APHSW-C.  We're grateful to the Moore Foundation for their leadership on this important professional designation for social workers.

What is SWHPN's role in the new certification program?
The SWHPN Board has offered its expertise and leadership in developing the program. The APHSW Board, a separate organization, oversees the implementation and administration of the certification program and the exam.

For its part, SWHPN will provide education and preparatory materials for the exam in the forms of study guides and online learning opportunities. These  will be designed to not only benefit those applicants sitting for the exam, but our membership and profession as whole.

Materials to prepare for the exam will be available in fall 2018, when registration for the exam opens. SWHPN membership is not required to take the APHSW-C exam, though SWHPN members do receive a discount. 

Why do we need an evidence-based specialty certification program?
Social workers are essential to the practice of hospice and palliative care. We bring specialized skills and knowledge to that practice and should be recognized as advanced practitioners. Our colleagues in nursing and medicine have had specialty certification programs for over 20 years.

Currently there is a credentialing program through NASW for hospice and palliative social workers. A committee decides who receives the credential based on education, experience, and letters of reference.
The APHSW-C certification requires verification of knowledge and competency based on passing of an evidence-based exam specifically and scientifically constructed to reflect the essential knowledge and skills required for specialty practice.
What are the benefits of an evidence-based program?
  • A defined body of knowledge and related education/training opportunities
  • Recognition by employers and colleagues
  • Preferred employability over non-credentialed social workers
  • Meets standards of accreditation bodies such as JCAHO
  • Improved patient/family care
  • Assures public that a practitioner has the knowledge and skills to provide safe, high-quality care
Who is eligible to take the exam?
There are several requirements to sit for the APHSW-C exam, and becoming certified:
  • Education requirements: applicants must have a Master’s Degree in Social Work or Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work
  • Experience: for MSWs, applicants must have two (2) years of post-degree experience in hospice and palliative social work over the past five (5) years; for BSWs, three (3) years of supervised experience in the past five (5) years
  • Ethics: applicants must attest that s/he practices in accordance with the NASW Code of Ethics.
  • Licensure: licensure in good standing is required, if applicant's state requires licensure to practice based up on the person’s educational level and type of practice.

What type of test is it, and how was it developed?

A nationwide job analysis was conducted in fall 2017, based upon established literature and job descriptions. An questionnaire was administered online to a large sample of practitioners. The results of this analysis determined the skills and knowledge of the advanced palliative and hospice and social worker, and served as the basis for the outline for the test content.

An item writing workshop was convened on March 10, the results of which provide the basis for the first exam. The APHSW exam consists of 150 multiple-choice items, covering four main areas of practice.


% of exam

# of Items

Assessment and Reevaluation



Planning and Intervention



Death, Grief and Bereavement









Each area tests the applicant on their ability to recall, apply concepts, and analyze specific problem situations.

The test will be administered by PSI, a private corporation providing full range of program management, test development, and test delivery services to over 100 clients and testing over 200,000 candidates annually. Their staff is dedicated to test development, informational technology, test administration, and candidate customer-service. Working with PSI ensures the certification program meets the highest standards for a psychometrically sound and legally defensible testing program. PSI has been a long-standing provider of program management for the certifications of hospice and palliative nurses and hospice medical directors.

I'm interested in learning more about this certification. What's the process for applying?

Registration for the exam will open on November 1, 2018; more information and a link for the program will be provided on this page. The certification program fee is $275 for SWHPN members and $450 for non-members. You can download the APHSW-C flyer here.

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For questions on the certification program, please reach out to the certification team at [email protected].