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Continuing Education: The Power of Language – Empowering Social Work to Influence Word Choice in Patient-Centered Care

Monday, February 8, 2021, 68 p.m.


At the heart of communication in health care settings and beyond are decisions related to language and word choice. As palliative care has developed and been integrated across settings and diagnoses, such phrases and concepts as “quality of life,” “goals of care,” and “suffering” are woven across discussions, often without awareness of the cultural, social, and historical contexts of the patient and family we are serving. No matter the setting, words and phrases significantly impact patient and family experiences, decisional outcomes, bereavement, and legacy. Well-intentioned yet misplaced word choice can foster misinterpretations by patients and create distance when the goal is to enhance connection. Social workers, as experts and leaders in communication, can model and educate through their own language when speaking and documenting, and can invite colleagues to join them in mitigating the unintended consequences of ineffective word choice.

The class will be taught by Terry Altilio LCSW, APHSW-C, a palliative work consultant, and Anne Kelemen LICSW, APHSW-C, director of Psychosocial-Spiritual Care, section of Palliative Care, MedStar Washington Hospital Center.

Completion of this class will result in the receipt of two continuing education hours.

About the Instructors
Terry Altilio is a palliative social work consultant with more than three decades of direct practice experience in palliative care, most recently in the Division of Palliative Care at Mount Sinai Beth Israel. She was a recipient of a Mayday Pain and Society Fellowship Award in 2006 and a Social Work Leadership award from the Open Society Institute’s Project on Death in America, which supported a post-graduate social work fellowship and a social work listserv, both of which are continuing programs. In 2013, Altilio was selected to receive the Project on Death in America Career Achievement Award from the Social Work Hospice and Palliative Network. She lectures nationally and internationally on such topics as pain management, ethics, palliative care, and psychosocial issues in palliative care. She also lectures in post-master’s degree programs at NYU and Smith College, and is a guest faculty member of an internet course through California State University San Marcos. She is co-editor, with Shirley Otis-Green, of the Oxford Textbook of Palliative Social Work and, with Bridget Sumser and Meaghan Leimena, Palliative Care – A Guide for Health Social Workers.

Anne Kelemen is the director of psychosocial/spiritual care for the Section of Palliative Care at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, where she provides patient care, teaches, and participates in a variety of research activities. She is also director of the Social Work Fellowship Program, which she created in 2019. Prior to joining the hospital’s staff, Kelemen instituted the first palliative care service at MedStar Good Samaritan Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. An assistant professor of medicine at Georgetown University Medical Center, her research interests include the intersection between language and medicine and intimacy and chronic illness. Kelemen publishes work on various topics related to palliative care and social work, and lectures nationally and internationally.

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