Frequently Asked Questions about the APHSW-C Certification Program

What's the history of the certification program?

The first meeting of the SWHPN Certification Committee took place in 2016, after leaders in the field recognized the special skills and knowledge that social workers bring to the practice of hospice and palliative care. Led by Dr. Barbara Head, this committee explored funding opportunities and developed a proposal for an evidence-based certification for social workers in hospice and palliative care - the first of its kind.

Through a generous grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, sufficient funding was received to develop the program and exam for the APHSW-C.  We're grateful to the Moore Foundation for their leadership on this important professional designation for social workers.

What is SWHPN's role in the new certification program?

The SWHPN Board offered its expertise and leadership during the initial development of the program. The APHSW Board, a separate organization, oversees the implementation and administration of the certification program and the exam.

For its part, SWHPN will provide optional education and preparatory materials for the exam in the forms of study guides and online learning opportunities. These will be designed to not only benefit those applicants sitting for the exam but our membership and profession as a whole.

Materials to prepare for the exam will be available in fall 2018 when registration for the exam opens. SWHPN membership is not required to take the APHSW-C exam, though SWHPN members do receive a discount. Exam preparation materials are developed independently by SWHPN. These materials are optional and are not required, endorsed, reviewed or approved by the APHSW Board. 


Why do we need an evidence-based specialty certification program?

Social workers are essential to the practice of hospice and palliative care. We bring specialized skills and knowledge to that practice and should be recognized as advanced practitioners. Our colleagues in nursing and medicine have had specialty certification programs for over 20 years.

Currently, there is a credentialing program through NASW for hospice and palliative social workers. NASW decides who receives the credential based on education, experience, letters of reference and colleague ratings of ability to practice submitted by the applicant.

The APHSW-C certification requires verification of knowledge and competency based on the passing of an evidence-based exam specifically and scientifically constructed to reflect the essential knowledge and skills required for specialty practice.

What are the benefits of an evidence-based program?

Benefits of holding the evidence-based APHSW-C credential include: 

  • Mastering a defined body of knowledge 

  • Receiving recognition by employers and colleagues

  • Meeting standards of accreditation bodies such as JCAHO

  • Improving patient/family care

  • Assuring the public that a practitioner has the knowledge and skills to provide safe, high-quality care

Who is eligible to take the exam?

All candidates must meet eligibility requirements listed on the APHSW-C Certification page and in the Candidate Handbook to earn the APHSW-C credential. 

What type of test is it, and how was it developed?

A nationwide job analysis was conducted in fall 2017, based upon established literature and job descriptions. A questionnaire was administered online to a large sample of practitioners. The results of this analysis determined the skills and knowledge of the advanced palliative and hospice and social worker and served as the basis for the outline for the test content.

The APHSW exam consists of 150 multiple-choice items, covering four main areas of practice.

  % of exam
Assessment and Reevaluation 31
Planning and Intervention 32
Death, Grief and Bereavement 21
Professionalism 15
Total 100


Each area tests the applicant on their ability to recall, apply concepts, and analyze specific problem situations.

The test will be administered by PSI, a private corporation providing a full range of program management, test development, and test delivery services to over 100 clients and testing over 200,000 candidates annually. Their staff is dedicated to testing development, informational technology, test administration, and candidate customer-service. Working with PSI ensures the certification program meets the highest standards for a psychometrically sound and legally defensible testing program. PSI has been a long-standing provider of program management for the certifications of hospice and palliative nurses and hospice medical directors.

Click here to see the full exam specifications in PDF.

What can I do to prepare for the exam? 

Candidates are encouraged to review the exam specifications and develop a study plan. 

SWHPN is offering an optional live webinar series in the fall of 2018 that covers the areas tested on the exam. These webinars will also be recorded and available for later viewing. You can see the topics covered and webinar dates here [insert link]. These webinars are developed independently by SWHPN. They are optional and are not required, endorsed, reviewed or approved by the APHSW Board.

Webinars cost $25 for members (each); and $40 for non-members. Bundle rates are also available. You can register on the SWHPN website at

A list of optional resources that may be helpful in preparing for the exam is available at Purchase or use of these resources is not required and is not considered the best or only means of preparing for the exam. The list is not intended to be all-inclusive.

I'm interested in learning more about this certification. What's the process for applying?

Registration for the exam will open on November 1, 2018; more information and a link for the program will be provided on this page. The certification program fee is $275 for SWHPN members and $450 for non-members. You can download the APHSW-C flyer here and the Candidate Handbook here.

Candidate Handbook

APHSW-C Flyer for Individuals & Organizations

What are the testing windows for the first examination?

The first two administrations of the exam will be held during two testing windows in 2019; one in January, and another in June. Registration for each testing window will open two months before the exam.

What if I fail the exam? Can I retake it? 

Yes, you may retake the exam if you fail, but you must re-register during another testing window and pay the examination fee. Exam attempts are limited to two attempts per year. 

What is the process for renewing my certification or becoming recertified?

To maintain use of the credential, certification must be renewed every 4 years. 60 continuing education credits are required to recertify. Please refer to the Candidate Handbook for additional details.

How can I contact the APHSW Board for any additional questions? 

For questions on the certification program, please reach out to the certification team at [email protected]