Monday, October 12, 2015

Back to the Old Schoolhouse − Students of Different Professions Learn Palliative Care Together

By Joseph D. Rotella

More and more academic centers are developing interprofessional education (IPE) programs to teach palliative care− and it makes good sense. Seriously ill patients and their families suffer as whole human beings and it takes a village of palliative care providers from different disciplines working together to comfort, support, and heal them. If we train palliative care professionals in silos, how can we expect them to be prepared for effective interdisciplinary teamwork when they emerge?

The feature story in the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine (AAHPM) Fall Quarterly (2015), Interprofessional Education: The More, the Healthier, highlights some of the programs across the country that are doing groundbreaking work in IPE.

It may be easy to see the promise of interprofessional training in palliative care, but it’s hard to do it well. In an AAHPM blog post accompanying the article, Dr. V.J. Periyakoil describes her personal experience as faculty for the VA Interprofessional Fellowship Program, “A gold standard is when all IPE fellows are taught at a level that is challenging to all of them in every single session.” That sets a high bar and she adds, “This area is really ripe for discovery and new innovation.” Like the pioneer teacher with K through 12 students in one classroom, IPE instructors strive for a curriculum that can engage learners with a wide range of individual competencies. When it works well, the students learn as much from each other as they do from their teachers.

When I think back on my own development as an internist and palliative care physician, I am struck by how much I learned informally from my colleagues in other professions. When I was a green intern on my first Cardiac Care Unit (CCU) rotation, it was an experienced (and extremely patient) CCU nurse who showed me how to run a code. Counselors taught me how to deal with challenging families and support the grieving. From chaplains, I learned to understand people in the context of the meaning of their life stories. Social workers modeled how to empower patients and families and to have healthy boundaries. A pharmacist shared best practices on stopping unnecessary medications. A nurse’s aide showed me how a bed bath can be a sacred ritual. I had some great physician mentors, but I think I learned more about palliative care from the interdisciplinary team than from other doctors.

My first experience with formal IPE was about a decade ago when I was a facilitator for a discussion group of medical, nursing, social work and pastoral care students following a screening of the film Wit. One medical student resented the whole process. He said, “This is absurd; no real doctor would behave as badly as the ones in this film.” The other medical students nodded their agreement. A nursing student rolled her eyes and said, barely audibly, “Actually, that is exactly what they do.” Her peers agreed. This was a fantastic teachable moment. IPE is not just about developing knowledge and skills. It’s also about opening minds and removing cultural barriers to teamwork.

Dr. Joe Rotella, MD MBA HMDC FAAHPM is the Chief Medical Officer, AAHPM and a frequent participant in #hpm (hospice and palliative med/care) chat.

What: #hpm chat on Twitter
When: Wed 10/14/2015 - 9p ET/ 6p PT
Host: AAHPM and Steve Smith, CEO of AAHPM

Some questions to ponder for the chat:
1. Are there opportunities for interprofessional palliative care training in your program? If so, how do they work?
2. What do you find to be the biggest challenges to interprofessional learning and collaboration?
3. What is the greatest lesson you ever learned from someone outside your profession?

If you are new to Tweetchats, you do not need a Twitter account to follow along. Try using the search function on Twitter. If you do have a Twitter account, we recommend using, for ease of following.

You can access the transcripts and analytics of #hpm chats through @Symplur. 

Image credit: Valerie Everett from Indianapolis, USA via Wikipedia Creative Commons

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