Christopher “Chris” Messersmith, MSW, LCSW, CT found a fulfilling connection between social work and hospice care, both fields dedicated to supporting people in a holistic way.
Five years in to his career, Chris recently was promoted to a psychosocial team leader (PSTL) of a home team at Suncoast Hospice. He coordinates and supports the delivery of psychosocial care and directly provides that care and bereavement support to patients, families and survivors. He’s driven to help people achieve healthy well-being and self determination so they can live their lives fully. The courage, hope and strength of those he serves inspire him to treasure each moment of every day.
1. What is your professional background?
I began my social work career in 2010 after completing a master’s degree in social work (MSW) at the University of Pittsburgh. From 2010 to 2013, I worked for Hope HealthCare Services in Lee County, FL as a social services counselor at a Hope Hospice House and a social worker for the Hope PACE program. In 2013 I joined Suncoast Hospice serving as a social worker on two teams and now a PSTL.
2. What are your credentials?
My credentials are licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) by the Florida Board of Clinical Social Work, Marriage & Family Therapy and Mental Health Counseling and certification in thanatology: death, dying and bereavement (CT) by the Association for Death Education and Counseling.
3. Why did you pursue social work?
I chose social work so I could assist in carrying out a holistic model of well-being for individuals and families. Traditionally, our society and healthcare system tend to focus primarily on medical issues that challenge individuals. Just as hospice does, the social work profession views people’s health as the integration of medical, social, psychological, emotional and spiritual components.
Social work allows me to serve people in a wide variety of ways including therapeutic counseling, emotional support, solutions-focused problem solving, psycho education, advocacy and connection to community resources. The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Code of Ethics is rooted in the core values of service, social justice, dignity and worth of the person, importance of human relationships, integrity and competence, which reflect my own professional values.
4. What does your PSTL position entail?
As a PSTL I coordinate psychosocial care provided to patients and families on home teams; support, assist and supervise psychosocial field staff enabling them to deliver care effectively and efficiently; and continue to directly provide psychosocial care and bereavement services to patients and families in home settings. I also work with my team’s leadership and other colleagues to create a positive, compassionate team culture to ensure outstanding care.
5. What are your goals in your care?
One of my goals in care is to help facilitate improvement in quality of life and psychosocial well-being for every patient and family member through exceptional, compassionate care throughout their journeys coping with terminal illness, death and bereavement. This includes advocating for self determination of patients and families to be honored as well as helping patients develop the perspective of living their lives as fully as possible rather than allowing their diagnoses to define their personal identities.
Another goal of mine is to encourage collaborative work with colleagues so patients may benefit from individualized, holistic plans of care developed together with their teams. Our team works together to provide high-quality care based on compassion, strong communication, mutual respect and the ideal of doing what’s best for patients and families.
6. How have the lives of your patients and families been improved by hospice care?
In the field of hospice and palliative care, we witness extraordinary patient and family experiences almost daily. I’ve been honored and inspired to share in these experiences of tremendous strength and courage. It’s my belief that our staff receives just as much, if not more, benefit from the people we serve than they do from us.
There are patients and families I’ve seen reconnect, reunite, forgive and express their love and gratitude for each other after long periods of deep tension, estrangement or having simply lost touch. Countless family members have surprised themselves with their abilities to roll up their sleeves and provide intimate, personal care when patients could no longer care for themselves. I’ve traveled alongside grieving families as they’ve gradually adjusted to healthy, productive lives without their loved ones, when they never imagined they could do so. I’ve also worked alongside compassionate, gifted staff and volunteers who’ve used their unique skills providing comfort to patients and families.
7. What is your advice for family caregivers?
Most important, don’t forget to care for yourself. The quality of care you provide to a loved one will be at risk of deteriorating if you don’t tend to your own physical and emotional well-being. Although it’s easier said than done, you must explore every option available to you as well as make time to take care of your own needs and recharge your battery.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help and admit when you need a break. Reach out to your family, friends, faith community members or anyone else you trust. Our Suncoast Hospice care offers respite, education, volunteer services, and visits from social workers, counselors and spiritual care coordinators. We also hold monthly Caregiver Coffee Break support meetings for any individuals who are caring for seriously-ill loved ones.
Caregiving can be very difficult, but your confidence in your care will grow through experience, education and lessons learned from family and friends who’ve served as caregivers. Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box.
8. How has your work impacted your life?
Hospice work has taught me to focus on being present and mindful in my daily life. Journeying beside people living with terminal illnesses makes it clear that every moment we have is meaningful and nothing is guaranteed. It’s inspiring to see patients and families who are able to find meaning, joy and hope in their lives despite facing seemingly insurmountable challenges.
Is it time for hospice care for someone you love? Talk with us at 727-467-7423 or submit an online request and we’ll contact you.