NYU Silver Zelda Foster Leadership Fellow Honored With Multiple Awards

Jennifer Giuffrida, a social work leadership fellow in palliative and end-of-life care, discovered her desire to work in this field during her first job as an inpatient social worker at NYU Langone Medical Center’s emergency room. “It was my first exposure to people who were acutely ill,” she recalled, which make her ask the question: How do people live with these illnesses?

Giuffrida is the director of social work and therapeutic recreation at Bon Secours New York Health System’s Schervier Nursing Care Center in the Bronx. She was recently awarded the Emerging Leaders Award from NASW-NYC and the Excellence in Clinical Practice Award from the Social Work Hospice and Palliative Care Network.

The Emerging Leaders Award from NASW-NYC recognizes those in New York who have demonstrated outstanding social work leadership early in their careers. The Excellence in Clinical Practice Award from the Social Work Hospice and Palliative Care Network celebrates those who have demonstrated outstanding clinical contributions to palliative social work.

Giuffrida credits her success to NYU Silver’s Zelda Foster Social Work Leadership Fellowship in Palliative and End-of-Life Care, which she started in 2011 at the program’s launch. She is part of a 13-person cohort in the program, whose aim is to train the next generation of palliative care leaders. Open to MSW graduates with at least five years of post-master’s experience in palliative and end-of-life care, the program includes individual mentorship and development of a capstone project, which can be done at the fellow’s site of employment or outside the work setting. The program was underwritten by generous grants from the Fan Fox and Leslie R. Samuels Foundation as well as the Lucius N. Littauer Foundation.

In the program, Giuffrida has learned about policy, procedures, and importantly, advocacy. “There’s so much you can do with the title ‘director,’” she explained. “It’s about systems change. It’s about bettering the life for the residents.”

As part of this fellowship, Giuffrida said she has found a voice at her job by developing a palliative program at Schervier Nursing Care Center. “I used my job as the basis for my capstone project,” she said. “Five percent of our long-term residents were in the palliative care program. Due to the fellowship and initiative, we now have over 30 percent of residents in the program.” Thanks to more communication with residents about the medical interventions with which they are comfortable, rates of unnecessary and unwanted treatments have decreased.

With an average life expectancy in nursing homes of two years, nursing home staff must focus on client and family concerns, including goals of care and determining a course of action if a patient cannot make medical decisions. In palliative and end-of-life care, client priorities often include pain relief and personal hygiene. Giuffrida’s role with residents in the program includes determining how best to keep patients comfortable.

The awards Giuffrida has received serve as evidence of her passion for her work. “It’s a real honor. You’re always hoping that someone is recognizing the hard work you do.” She quickly credits the implementation of the palliative program to her supportive supervisor and fellow staff members.

She encourages students interested in learning more about palliative and end-of-life care to consider working at hospitals or nursing homes, which are great opportunities to gain exposure to the field. Students never know where they may find their passion.

As Giuffrida said, “I came across my old letter of intent. I wanted to work with homeless adolescents. I didn’t even remember what I wanted to do!” She laughs as she notes that field experiences and beginning careers can be the chance for students to discover what they ultimate would like to do.