Fulfilling a Need for PELC Leadership: An Interview With Susan Gerbino

The NYU Silver School of Social Work has long been a leader in the field of palliative and end-of-life care. The School offers training across the career trajectory through the Zelda Foster Studies Program in Palliative and End-of-Life Care: in the MSW program, a post-master's certificate, and a new 18-month fellowship in social work PELC leadership. Generously funded by The Fan Fox and Leslie R. Samuels Foundation, Inc. and the Lucius N. Littauer Foundation, the fellowship provides training, mentorship, and a capstone program. The 14 Leadership Fellows have at least five years of post-master's PELC experience, and work in New York City hospices, hospitals, and nursing homes.

Zelda Foster was a pioneer in the field of hospice and palliative care who taught in the School's post-master's program. After her death in 2006, her family and friends asked the School to develop a program that would honor her legacy.

Clinical Associate Professor Susan Gerbino, who directs the Zelda Foster Studies Program, recently discussed the fellowship program in social work PELC leadership.

Q. Why does the new fellowship focus on PELC leadership?

A. The impetus comes from those of us who have been in leadership positions and are now beginning to look towards retirement. We want to develop a cadre of well-trained social workers to meet the increasing demand for social work leaders across the health care continuum as the population ages and we face a social work shortage in oncology, geriatrics, and palliative care.

Palliative care begins at the time of any diagnosis of a life-threatening or life-limiting illness and can provide holistic care, whether the outcome is cure, remission, chronicity, or death. End-of-life care is a component of palliative care, for people who are in the last six months or year of their life. Palliative and end-of -life programs care for a wide group of patients and families and cut across many settings. This is a vital area for social work leadership.

Q. Can you describe some of the topics covered in the program?

A. Training started in October at NYU. The first three days of training focused on defining leadership, identifying organizational issues, developing leadership skills, using advocacy skills on an interdisciplinary health care team, and working with older adults. Throughout the year, Fellows have two-hour evening modules on specific topics, such as writing for publication and pain and symptom management. A full-day training in June will focus on grant writing; research; and PELC for developmentally disabled adults, which is a new frontier in the field. Each Fellow will develop a capstone project and present it in April 2013.

Q. What does the School have to offer that makes this program unique?

A. The Silver School knows how to teach this kind of material due to our long experience with PELC social workers in the post-master's certificate program. Our faculty have lengthy careers in palliative care and teach from a relational perspective, which creates a safe learning environment. We are also located in New York City, with all its diversity, resources, and challenges. Leadership in the context of a city like New York will make a significant difference in the lives of the many vulnerable populations for whom we care.

One unique aspect is that this program and the MSW Fellowship (for students in the final year of the MSW program) includes mentoring. Each Leadership Fellow is matched with an experienced leader in the PELC field, who they meet with monthly for one year and who guides them on their capstone project and leadership goals. Mentoring was Zelda's passion as she felt that experienced social workers have an ethical obligation to give back to the profession and to the next generation. She thought social workers needed mentors outside of their work place given the inherent emotional challenges this work presents.

Q. What type of career paths do you anticipate for these Fellows?

A. We see the Leadership Fellows conducting research, writing, directing and developing programs, advancing clinical social work scholarship, and advocating for increased access to PELC services for older adults and vulnerable populations. This program helps our Leadership Fellows to advance their leadership practice in areas that best match their talents.

Learn more about the Zelda Foster Studies Program in Palliative and End-of-Life Care. For questions regarding the School's PELC programs, contact Susan Gerbino.