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

Date and Time

Wednesday, February 2, 2022
12 - 3 p.m. ET

Offered via live webinar.

Completion of this class will result in the receipt of three (3) continuing education hours.

Registration will close at midnight of the day before the class.

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, phrases and concepts such as “quality of life,” “goals of care” and  “suffering” weave across discussions, often without consciousness 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 negatively impact patient interpretation of information and create distance when the goal is to enhance connection. Social workers, as experts and leaders in communication, can model and educate as they attend to their own language in speaking and documentation, and invite colleagues to join them in mitigating the unintended consequences of ineffective word choice.


  1. Recognize common language used in healthcare settings to raise consciousness about the influence of word choice on patients, families and outcomes.
  2. Identify words and phrases commonly used in both inpatient and outpatient settings such as ICU, hospice and oncology that have unintended consequences. 
  3. Give examples of alternative phrasing and interventions to enhance word choice of self and colleagues to improve patient-centered care and inform documentation. 
  4. Describe models of communication such as “therapy first” “Nurse” “Remap” as tools to guide clinicians, making comparison to the disability rights movement around “person first language”
  5. Recognize social workers as experts in communication with a consequent responsibility to foster change related to language and word choice.

Terry AltilioTerry Altilio LCSW, APHSW-C

Terry Altilio is a palliative social worker with over three decades of direct practice experience in palliative care, most recently in the Division of Palliative Care at Mt Sinai Beth Israel Medical Center. She is 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 social work post graduate fellowship and a social work listserv, both of which are continuing programs. In 2013, Terry 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 topics such as pain management, ethics, palliative care and psychosocial issues in palliative care.  She lectures in post-masters programs at NYU, Smith and is guest faculty in an internet course through California State University San Marcos. In addition to co-authoring publications, she is co-editor with Shirley Otis-Green of the Oxford Textbook of Palliative Social Work and most recently co-editor with Bridget Sumser and Meaghan Leimena of Palliative Care – A Guide for Health Social Workers.

Anne KelemenAnne Kelemen LICSW, APHSW-C

Anne Kelemen is the Director of Psychosocial/Spiritual Care for the Section of Palliative Care at MedStar Washington Hospital Center in Washington, where she provides patient care, teaches and participates in a variety of research activities. She is also the Director of the Social Work Fellowship program that she created in 2019. Prior to joining the Hospital Center staff, Ms. 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. Anne publishes on varied topics related to palliative care and social work and lectures nationally and internationally.

Class fees are listed below:

  • Full Tuition - $90
  • GSS Alumni - $75
  • Current Fordham Field Instructor - $75
  • Current Fordham Adjunct Faculty - $75
  • SWHPN Member - $75
  • 3+ members registering from one agency - $60 per registration
  • Non-Fordham Current MSW or Social Work PhD Student - $60
  • Veterans - $60
  • Fordham Faculty and Staff - $60
  • Current Fordham MSW or PhD Student - $45
  • Fordham Alumni Palliative Care Fellow - $45
  • Current Fordham Palliative Care Fellowship Field Instructor/Career Mentor - $45
  • Current Fordham Palliative Care Fellow or Montefiore Fellow - $0

You will receive the Zoom link for joining the class by the day before the class. You will need a computer and a reliable WiFi connection. The computer may be a desktop or a laptop. It may be an Apple or Windows computer.

If you have never used Zoom before, you will likely be prompted to download an applet, which is a small program that allows Zoom to communicate with your computer. This is safe and you will need to do this to join the class.

It is NOT advised that you participate using a table (e.g,.an iPad) or a cellular phone. The software is not optimized for these devices.

Please plan to join the online class 15 minutes before the start time to be sure that you don’t have any problems connecting. We cannot provide technical support to you and refunds won’t be offered if you have technical problems. If you have any questions or concerns about this, please contact us at at least a few days before the class.