“It’s soul-stirring and soul-draining. It’s overwhelming. It’s a gift. It’s what feeds my soul.”
This is how Hospice of Cincinnati social worker Jennifer Vinel, BSW, LSW, describes her job.
Not everyone is lucky enough to have found their life’s calling, but Vinel and her colleague Nan Zupancic, MLSW, have certainly found theirs. The immense, intrinsic rewards of working with hospice patients and families outweigh any downsides, they said, and have kept them inspired and devoted to their profession for many years.
“To be part of someone’s journey at the end of life is a privilege and an honor,” said Vinel, who works with home care patients on the west side of Cincinnati. She’s been a member of the Hospice of Cincinnati team for 28 years.
Zupancic has worked at the Hospice of Hamilton inpatient care center for 19 years. Echoing Vinel’s comments, she said her work is a gift to herself as much as the patients and their families.
“It’s a gift to be present to them at this time,” said Zupancic. “It’s a very sacred experience.”
Hospice social workers are part of a team that includes nursing staff, physicians, volunteers and chaplains. Together, they provide care for body, mind and spirit.
Hospice social workers spend their days in environments overwhelmed with sickness, sadness and fear. Both formally and informally, they become watchful guardians, sounding boards and spirit-lifters for people facing the most difficult time in their lives. For Zupancic, that includes maintaining a presence near patient rooms and keeping a vigilant eye open for patients, families and even staff who might need an encouraging word, a hug, or someone to sit quietly at their side.
“I cannot tell you how much I feel I’ve grown professionally, emotionally and spiritually in the 19 years I’ve been here,” Zupancic said. “I still feel called to be here. I still feel blessed to come to work.”
“Social workers are immensely important throughout the hospice journey,” said Jody Mitchell, LISW-S, AHPC-SW, supervisor of social work at Hospice of Cincinnati. “They meet the whole person where they are in the moment, they are savvy with resources, and they are brilliant with supporting those being served as they process emotional pain, social pain and grief. Hospice social workers are remarkable counselors, trusted clinicians and steadfast advocates for those they serve and do their work with grace, humility, kindness and empathy.”