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2024 Virtual Conference:

Plenaries and Keynotes

SWHPN is pleased to announce the following plenaries and keynote talks during the 2024 Virtual Conference. Over the two days of the conference, you'll have the opportunity to hear from leaders and experts on a wide range of topics - there is truly something for everyone!

Friday Opening Plenary

Bringing Your Self to Your Practice


Ladybird Morgan, RN, MSW, BCST

Bridget Sumser, LCSW, APHSW-C

What does it mean to bring more of yourself to your practice of caring for people with serious illnesses? We work in a field that strikes deeply on the chords of what it means to be human in imperfect and sometimes harmful systems. This plenary explores how more intimacy with our work can increase satisfaction and protect against burnout when done consciously and with support. From the micro to the Macro, we are living and working in times of profound uncertainty. How can our presence and attention help create a felt experience of groundedness?

After attending this session, participants will be able to:

  • Identify opportunities to bring more of yourself into your clinical practice. 

  • Illustrate how conscious use of self enhances our abilities to care for ourselves. 

  • Integrate learning to highlight personal growing edge in sustainable clinical practice. 

Ladybird Morgan, RN, MSW, BCST is a registered nurse, clinical social worker, registered craniosacral therapist practitioner and co-founder of The Humane Prison Hospice Project. She has 20+ years of experience in hospice and palliative care, addressing trauma, mental health challenges and repercussions of sexual violence. Ladybird guides medical practitioners, families, caregivers and institutions worldwide on how to be present to difficult experiences by remembering, embodying and responding from the deepest place of truth. Ladybird also co-facilitates Commonweal’s Cancer Care Help Program: Healing Circles, UCSF’s MERI Center’s Last Acts of Kindness and is a study therapist with a University of Washington study of psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy.

Bridget Sumser, LCSW, APHSW-C became a social worker to help people living with serious illness. Over the course of the last 10 years, she has worked across settings, providing support and companionship to patients, families, community members, and providers. In addition to her clinical work, she is a writer and educator and edited Palliative Care: A Guide for Health Social Workers (Oxford University Press, 2019). Her practice is rooted in a commitment to social justice and understanding illness and caregiving within the context of a unique life. Above all, she looks to promote connection and well-being.

Saturday Keynote

Making Change Happen: What You Can Do Today


Kimberly D. Acquaviva, PhD, MSW, CSE, FNAP

As social workers, we share a commitment to advocacy and social change. Given the current political tensions in the United States, however, knowing where to start – and how – can feel overwhelming.  In this session, Kim will explore practical strategies that hospice and palliative care social workers can use to advocate for patients and families and influence systemic change. This session provides practical tools for social workers to become more effective advocates in their field. The presenter will share personal examples of how she has used her social work skills to advocate for policy changes, both big and small.

After attending this session, participants will be able to:

  • Identify opportunities to use their social work skills to advocate for policy change.

  • Engage in individual advocacy efforts to influence policy and ensure equitable access to care.

  • Identify their personal “why” for advocating for policy changes.

Kimberly D. Acquaviva, PhD, MSW, CSE, FNAP is the Betty Norman Norris Endowed Professor at the University of Virginia School of Nursing as well as a Provost's Office Faculty Fellow. Before she was recruited to UVA in August 2019, she spent fifteen years as a faculty member at the George Washington University School of Nursing and the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences. During her time at GW, she served as both founding faculty and the inaugural Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs in the School of Nursing.  


A year and a half after she published LGBTQ-Inclusive Hospice & Palliative Care: A Practical Guide to Transforming Professional Practice in 2017, Kim learned that her wife Kathy had ovarian cancer. Kim and Kathy spent the next six months sharing their experiences via social media and giving people a sense of what it's like to be living while dying.   Shortly after Kathy died in August 2019, a New Yorker documentary film was made about Kim, Kathy, and their son Greyson. Her new book, The Handbook of LGBTQIA-Inclusive Hospice & Palliative Care, was published by Columbia University Press in October 2023.  


​Dr. Acquaviva has a Ph.D. in Human Sexuality Education from the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, an M.S.W. from the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy and Practice, and a B.A. in Sociology from the University of Pennsylvania College of Arts and Sciences. She is an AASECT-Certified Sexuality Educator.

We hope to see you at the conference!

Friday Plenary

Death and Renewal in the Evolution of Healthcare: Losses, Transition and Seeds of Hope


Maya Scott, LICSW; Claire Crawford, PhD, MSW; Terri Warren, MSW; Rebecca Freeman, LCSW; Robert Smeltz, DNP, Glen Komatsu, MD


Lauren King, LCSW

This plenary will be an interdisciplinary panel discussing the rapidly changing world of healthcare – looking at the losses we have felt as providers in this system, as well as growth opportunities we are witnessing, promoting and actively cultivating, asking ourselves “What can we do better? What long-neglected aspects of care can we emphasize?

After attending this session, participants will be able to:

  • Describe aspects of healthcare systems that have been significantly impacted by social, economic and political factors during the last decade.

  • Identify interdisciplinary perspectives on how changes in healthcare systems have impacted both those receiving and providing patient care.

  • Discuss emerging opportunities to further promote changes in healthcare systems that align with the social work core values (service, social justice, dignity and worth of the person, importance of human relationships, integrity and competence).

Saturday Closing Plenary

The Palliative Story Exchange


Rachel Rusch, LCSW, MSW, MA, APHSW-C

Alexis Drutchas, MD

Richard Leiter, MD, MA 

The Palliative Story Exchange is a storytelling event in a casual open-mic format, facilitated by Rachel Rusch, LCSW, Dr. Alexis Drutchas, and Dr. Ricky Leiter, co-creators of the Palliative Story Exchange. The goal of this space is to come together to share openly, listen deeply, and find strength, solace, and meaning in our shared experiences. The stories will be gathered from within our SWHPN community, with time taken in between each story to reflect together as a group. More information to come about how to sign up to share a story if interested. 

After attending this session, participants will be able to:

  • Identify how storytelling with palliative care colleagues can build community among peers.

  • Recognize narrative writing and storytelling as strategies for meaning-making and sustainability in their work.

  • Practice deep listening and reflection in a group setting.

Rachel Rusch, LCSW, MSW, MA, APHSW-C

Rachel Rusch, LCSW, MSW, MA, APHSW-C is the Palliative Care Education & Practice Coordinator with the Division of Comfort and Palliative Care at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Her career experience includes pediatric palliative care clinical social work and the study of early childhood development. With an extensive background in the performing arts, Rachel’s current education and program-building initiatives include the incorporation of theatre, improvisation, and creative writing toward the enhancement of clinical communication and the uplifting of patient-centered narratives. Rachel is additionally a proud member of the Social Work Hospice and Palliative Care Network, receiving the 2020 Award for Emerging Leader in Clinical Practice. A recipient of the Cambia Health Foundation Sojourns Scholar Leadership Program grant, her research centers on the power of story, narrative, and the humanities in health care.

Alexis Drutchas, MD

Dr. Alexis Drutchas is a co-founder of the Palliative Story Exchange. She is a palliative care physician at Massachusetts General Hospital and an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Drutchas trained in Family Medicine at Brown University during which time she co-founded the annual Rhode Island Trans Health Conference. After residency, Dr. Drutchas worked as a primary care physician at Fenway Health and later went on to complete the Harvard Palliative Care Fellowship. She remained at MGH thereafter where in addition to her clinical work she co-leads serious illness communication training with The Continuum Project and co-leads the fellowship's health equity education efforts. She is also a faculty member of the Harvard Medical School-Fenway Health LGBQIA+ Health Fellowship Program. Dr. Drutchas is an avid writer and was chosen to be a 2021 OpEd Project Public Voices Fellow. Her work has been featured in The New England Journal of Medicine, NBC, CNN, Newsweek, The Boston Globe, and Health Affairs, among others. Dr. Drutchas is originally from Detroit, and now lives in Boston with her wife and their son.

Richard Leiter, MD, MA 

Richard Leiter, MD, MA is a co-founder of the Palliative Story Exchange. He is palliative care physician, writer, and researcher at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Brigham and Women’s Hospital and an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He serves as Director of the Adult Inpatient Palliative Care Consult Service and directs the Dana-Farber Department of Psychosocial Oncology and Palliative Care’s Writing Core. Dr. Leiter received his medical degree and an MA in Medical Humanities and Bioethics at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. He completed Internal Medicine residency and Chief Residency at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center before matriculating to the Harvard Interprofessional Palliative Care Fellowship Program. Dr. Leiter writes about the intersection of palliative care and ethics, and the emotional experience of working in the field. His writing has been published in the New York Times, The New England Journal of Medicine, STATNews, the Journal of Clinical Oncology, and Cell, among others.

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