Monday, August 5, 2019

Remembering Kathy Brandt: Hospice and Palliative Care Advocate

by Christian Sinclair (@ctsinclair)

As some of you may already now, we lost a great voice and energy in our field of palliative care and hospice yesterday, August 4th, when Kathy Brandt died at home with her wife,Kimberly Acquaviva and son, Greyson. Kathy was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in January of 2019. Kathy most recently worked on the National Consensus Project Guidelines, 4th edition, as the writer and editor, which was released in 2018. She had over 30 years experience in the aging and end-of-life issues and was helpful to many organizations as the principal and founder of the kb group.

In addition to all that work over the past 30 years, her most lasting impact is likely to be her own narrative, which she shared online with all of us. Through Kathy's social media posts and the insight of Kim and Greyson as they walked her journey with her, we have been able to follow along and see the ups and downs of serious illness and end of life.

I was able to work alongside Kathy in a few instances and she always had the energy, wit and insight to improve the situation and manage the project. I will miss her greatly, and I know a lot of you will too. I hope that we can all find a way to include her in the work we do and remember the contributions she made to promoting excellence in the work that we do.

We can all probably help a little by contributing to their GoFundMe. I'm sure we can get it over $100,000. It is at $81,842 right now.

Monday, August 5, 2019 by Christian Sinclair ·

Friday, July 26, 2019

March Madness, Palliative Care Style

by Sarah Rossmassler (@srossmassler)and Diane Dietzen (@ddietzen)

As a part of our palliative care team’s educational efforts for the medical residents at Baystate Medical Center, a 712-bed tertiary care academic medical center in Springfield, MA, we prepare and present an academic half-day about twice a year. This year, since our turn came in March, we organized the teaching around a March Madness theme. We had a ton of fun preparing it and felt it was an engaging format for both the palliative care faculty and the residents. In the spirit of Christian Sinclair’s call to use the format in palliative care (as NephMadness has done so beautifully) we wanted to share what we learned and offer our materials and pearls of wisdom to the PalliMed community.

What we did
We began by having palliative care faculty members select two articles from the recent palliative care literature within four topic areas: communication, goals of care, symptom management, and existential distress. For the first round (about 70 minutes), each faculty member had 7-10 minutes to present their two chosen articles to the residents. Faculty volunteers were responsible for researching and identifying their own papers; we asked each faculty member to choose one review article and one recently published paper that would educate residents in palliative care competencies. We assigned two faculty to each topic area in order to provide a well-rounded and representative selection of papers.

After each of the first presentations, the residents voted for one article they found most relevant to their practice. Then we broke into groups of 4-6 residents with roaming faculty preceptors; the small groups allowed residents to delve deeper into the papers and to discuss which paper they felt was most influential and valuable to integrating palliative care into their practices. Faculty had prepared one-page summaries with insights about why they thought the paper was important. We tried to tailor the summaries to the resident perspective, as most are focused on primary palliative care. Next, we came together as a group to continue voting. After residents voted for each of the next pairings of papers we ended up with a final winner.

What worked well
The competitive nature of the format made it fun for both faculty and residents. The faculty member whose paper was voted the winner was promised a prize by our medical director: a jug of local maple syrup… highly coveted! This added to the excitement on the faculty side, and the residents quickly realized that faculty were competing for their selected papers to win. This prompted some good-natured “trash talking” and faculty efforts at persuading the residents to vote for their papers. We believe that the clear bracket framework allowed the residents to quickly review and engage with a broad selection from the palliative care literature.

What could have been better
We used lots of different technologies, and we should have had a test run prior to showtime in the actual room where we had the event. For instance, the YouTube link was expired; which meant our introductory video had to move later in the session, which might have led to confusion about what the theme of the event was. Also, because there were so many transitions (eight different presenters, fifteen voting opportunities) we struggled to hold resident attention and keep faculty on track. We received constructive feedback that some residents felt the organization could have been tighter and that an introduction to the theme would have been helpful for context (some were not familiar with basketball or March Madness). Some residents wished for more clear take-away points. The pace was fast; to those who were not paying close attention, it might have felt frenetic.

Final Thoughts
The March Madness themed academic half-day was a huge success. Since the work was distributed preparation was manageable for our eight interdisciplinary faculty . The advantages of the format are that it includes nerdy paper reviews, showcases the interdisciplinary nature of the palliative care team, and being interactive, it kept the attention of our resident physicians. We loved that the residents selected our Chaplain’s paper on Addressing a Patient’s Hope for a Miracle as their final winner; it showed us that this is clearly a difficult topic for residents and faculty alike.

The Winning Paper
Shinall, M. C., Stahl, D., & Bibler, T. M. (2018). Addressing a Patient’s Hope for a Miracle. Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, 55(2), 535-539. doi:10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2017.10.002

If you want to try our format…
We’d be happy to share what we did. We made:
  • A two-minute video to showcase the theme (with AC/DC Thunderstruck as the score)
  • An interactive excel spreadsheet with the brackets
  • We used Turning Point for the voting. Consider having a tech person on site to manage the interactive technology (we had our tech-savvy librarian there).
  • If you would like our materials (youtube video, excel brackets) e-mail sarah.rossmassler - at -

Sarah Rossmassler works on the palliative care consult team at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, MA. She recently completed her DNP at the MGH Institute of Health Professions during which she developed and implemented a QI project with Trauma Surgeons, teaching them the Best Case/Worst Case Communication framework. This work has spurred further interest in other types of graphic aids as communication tools for patients, families, and interdisciplinary teams. In her free time Sarah is caretaker of two mini donkeys (Luna and Mabel) who teach her daily about the importance of staying grounded.

Diane Dietzen is the Medical Director of the Palliative Care Program at Baystate Medical Center and is board certified in Internal Medicine and Hospice and Palliative Medicine. Prior to joining Baystate in 2011, Dr. Dietzen planned and developed a Palliative Care Program at the Abington Memorial Hospital in suburban Philadelphia. Dr. Dietzen served as an Associate Director of the Residency Program educating Internal Medicine Residents. Dr. Diane Dietzen earned her Medical Degree and completed her Internship and Residency at the Temple University School of Medicine.

Friday, July 26, 2019 by Pallimed Editor ·

Monday, July 22, 2019

Living an Intentional Life: This is Water

by Bob Arnold (@rabob)

I am not sure what led me to go from thinking about data and evidence in the literature to waxing philosophical recently. It may be that I saw Rufus Wainwright in concert and heard him sing “Hallelujah” with his sister, Lucy Roache Wainwright (Google it). It may be that one of our cardiology fellows died suddenly of unknown reasons and everyone at my hospital is a little fragile. Or that I was just on service and trying to balance the existential realities of sadness and dying with teaching learners and dealing with institutional budget cuts. But when I sat down today and tried to think of what article to review what popped into my mind was David Foster’s Wallace’s 2005 Kenyan commencement address.

This is where I go to whenever I am feeling philosophic. I go to it because it, more than anything else I’ve ever read, summarizes the human experience, what is real about it, and what is hard about it. And so, it reminds me of how hard it is to stay present, be curious, and think about is “just in my head”. It is too long for a blog post (and I hope you’ll go here to read or watch it). So what I am going to do is give you some illustrative quotes and then a couple of comments.

There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says "Morning, boys. How's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes "What the hell is water?"

The point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about. Stated as an English sentence, of course, this is just a banal platitude, but the fact is that in the day-to-day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have a life or death importance.

Think about it: there is no experience you have had that you are not absolute center of. The world as you experience it is there in front of YOU or behind YOU, to the left or right of YOU, on YOUR TV or YOUR monitor. And so on. Other people's thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent and real.

As I'm sure you guys know by now, it is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive, instead of getting hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your own head (may be happening right now)….It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about quote the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master.

If you're automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won't consider possibilities that aren't annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.

Because here's something else that's weird but true: in the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.

It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:

"This is water."

"This is water."

It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out.

So, what does all this mean for us as palliative care clinicians (or humans)? First, I think it reminds us how easy it is to see our daily lives as normal. I love rounding with first-year medical students who are just amazed that clinicians walk in on people and have conversations with half naked people, sometimes while getting on or off the toilet. That we have difficult conversations in rooms where there is a patient next door (and the cleaning person, dietician and four other people coming in and out). It is so easy to become numb to the hospital experience that you do not realize how completely bizarre it is and how off-putting and alien the experience of health care is.

Second, the stories that I tell in my head about patients, families or other clinicians are just that - stories that I tell in my head. I need to lose my certainty about the story and gather information about the other stories in the world. I need to continually ask myself whether my reactions are because of what is going on in the world, or what is going on in my head.

Finally, I need to cut myself a break. It is really hard given that the only experiences I have are my experiences, to get caught up in that experience. So much of what was resiliency activities (like meditation) are about helping me maintain my awareness and give me choices over what I see and what I do. My days are hard and the budget cuts suck. When I get knocked off balance, realizing that this is the human condition, helps gets me up the next morning, appreciate what I have and move forward.

Next week, I go back to reviewing articles.

Robert Arnold MD is a palliative care doctor at the University of Pittsburgh and a co-founder of VitalTalk. He loves both high and low brow comedy (The Good Place and Nanette), pop culture (the National Enquirer and Pop Culture Happy hour) and music of all kinds (not opera tho!)

Monday, July 22, 2019 by Pallimed Editor ·

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Celebrating 14 Years of Creating Content and Finding Emerging Creative Clinicians

by Christian Sinclair (@ctsinclair)

Another year has passed and we are celebrating the 14th Anniversary of Pallimed. Digitally speaking, 2005 is a pretty long time ago, before Twitter started and when YouTube was only 4 months old. I want to emphasize that what Drew Rosielle started with a single blog post as a 3rd year resident is something all of us are capable of doing. You have knowledge to share with a wider audience. At the time Drew was not an expert in hospice and palliative medicine, but he had passion, and he put his work where people could find it. The goal was not to build a brand or build followers, but to share information he thought would be relevant to his work in palliative care. Knowing these roots, I am on the look-out for clinicians in our field who are publishing independently. We go through dry patches but recently, more palliative clinicians are creating innovative and quality online content and I love it. Here are just a few examples:

Example 1 - Dr. Jared Rubenstein and his Palliative Care Public Service Announcements

Example 2 - The Palliators Podcast - Started by three hospice and palliative medicine fellows Dr. Tara Kattine, Dr. Nancy Hart Wicker, and Dr. Katie Mollow. 4 episodes are in the can and on Apple and Spotify. I hope they keep it going!

Example 3 - Kayla Sheehan and sharing her experience as a medical student with a career goal of hospice and palliative medicine. Follow her journey on Twitter @kksheehan.

Example 4 - Dr. Alex Sable-Smith and his educational YouTube videos focused on Primary Palliative Care. Only three so far but I am hoping for some more.

So maybe you have an idea for a blog, video series, Twitter account, Instagram account or podcast. What is stopping you? Impostor syndrome? Find a mentor to give guidance and encouragement. Not enough time? Build a team and go further together. Technophobia? Google it! There are plenty of free/inexpensive tools and YouTube how-to videos to get it done. I really have learned a lot from Austin Kleon's book "Show Your Work" Here are the key points boiled down.

If I missed some new creative content in our field, please Tweet at me or share in the comments below. When we are celebrating our 28th anniversary I would love to point to examples of other people at their 14th anniversary! Christian Sinclair, MD, FAAHPM is on-call this weekend and still managed to pound out a quick anniversary blog post. He is a palliative care physician at the University of Kansas Health System.

Saturday, June 8, 2019 by Christian Sinclair ·

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

In Hospice, Time is an Illusion

by Lizzy Miles (@LizzyMiles_MSW)

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the perception of time and how it affects our patients. Because their time is limited, their perception of time and its value can often be magnified. This is our job, but this is the patient’s LIFE. We have to remember that for our patients, they may be hyper-focused on time. How do we help them feel good about timing and the time we spend with them? We can do this by being mindful of how we use our time with them and also how we show respect for their time.

Set expectations
There is research in the ambulatory care arena that says that patient satisfaction is increased if a patient knows how long they are going to have to wait to see the practitioner. It would be reasonable to conclude that this would apply to hospice visits as well.

Intervention: Always give a time range for when you’re going to visit so you bake time in for traffic, other longer visits, etc.

So much caregiver distress could be alleviated if we just set expectations appropriately.

• On admission, make sure you tell patients and families the visit frequency for each discipline.

• Inform family members how your organization’s paging system works. Encourage them to let us know when they call how important their call is. Encourage them to call back if they haven’t heard back from the staff member and they feel it’s urgent.

• If you’re taking a message for another staff member, don’t make promises for others. If you know there is a potential for delay in the other staff member calling them, let the patient know.

Coordinate with all team members to address patient/caregiver crises in a timely manner
Our perception of a reasonable response time for telephone calls or visit likely differs significantly from what a patient or caregiver feels they need. We may think two or three hours is a reasonable response time to visit when a caregiver calls about a new symptom that is causing panic. The caregiver may want us there ASAP. When we can’t get there quick enough, what happens? They call the squad. Emergency room visits for normal hospice symptoms are excessive, unnecessary and can be avoided with coordination.

Sometimes, the staff member who is initially requested may be caught up with something else, and another team member may have to temporarily assist.

Here are some options to consider as well:

Intervention: Can another staff member return the call to find out what is going on?

A social worker may be able to talk to the family member and learn that the caregiver simply wants to order equipment or supplies. Even if the need is for nursing, a call from a social worker to find out what’s going on can be helpful. The need may be for a question to be answered that social work can coordinate with the primary nurse or triage. If a nursing visit is needed, the social worker can inform the family the estimated time that the nurse will be coming out. Sometimes an estimate in itself all the reassurance the family needs.

Is it a matter of the caregiver just not knowing what medicine to administer and education can be provided on the phone by a triage nurse if primary nurse is unavailable?

There is nothing worse for families to not receive a call back when their question was a simple one that could be answered with instructions and education.

Is the social worker or chaplain available for a visit? Sometimes the family wants a ‘body’ from hospice and are comforted by the present of a social worker or chaplain.

Even with patients who are actively dying, I’ve found that as a social worker there is a lot we can do at the bedside to help the family. I’ve gone out to homes in advance of the nurse only to find that family just needed to know that the symptoms are normal and reassurances that they are doing everything right. There have been times where the family has said after my social work visit that they don’t need a nurse visit anymore. To be clear, I’m not in any way doing nursing work when I’m there. What I can do is assess if patient looks comfortable and there are no signs of distress or discomfort. Sometimes just hearing an outside person’s reassurances is all a caregiver needs in that moment.

Is there another nurse on the team who has a lighter load who can visit?

A good hospice organization will have a culture where staff members help each other out.

Intervention: Lead by example with your team members and provide support if another team member is “in the weeds.”

When what you give is never enough

I have to acknowledge there are patients and caregivers who do seem “needy” with time and sometimes their needs are beyond the scope of the work that we do. Patients with COPD in particular can be highly anxious and can have emotional needs. For these patients, we do need to also set time boundaries.

Intervention: Set expectations by telling a patient at the beginning of the visit how much time you have.

There are visits where you do have a limited amount of time due to another scheduled appointment. It’s best to acknowledge this for the patient or caregiver up front so that they don’t perceive that you are bored or impatient with the visit if you frequently look at your watch or the clock.

It may be helpful to know that there is patient satisfaction research that indicates that patients perceive that a provider spent more time with them if they sat down. Do you use a chair or stool in your visits?

If needs are emotional, be sure to be engaging the entire team in coordinating visits so they are spread out across the days. Utilize your volunteers to provide extra support to emotional patients and remember that telephone calls can be an intervention as well.

Show that we value the patient’s limited time

“If I’m here and you’re here, doesn’t that make it our time?” – Jeff Spicoli

Patients who are on hospice have limited energy. Caregivers can be overwhelmed and exhausted. If they’re not up for a visit, we shouldn’t force it because we need to check a box that we did our visit. There are nuances between someone declining a visit because they don’t want to bother you and declining a visit because they don’t need or want it.


• Psychosocial support staff should always ask for permission to visit with patient, whether they are in a facility or in a home.

• Always ask for permission to visit with caregiver. If a caregiver says it’s not a good time because they have a hair appointment, celebrate that they are doing self-care.
Also, patients or caregivers may want a visit to end before they tell you. Always assess nonverbal behavior to see if they’re talking because they want to or if they are just being polite.

Sometimes patients or caregivers say no to a visit because we are vague with the request. They may be more open to us visiting if we clarify how much time we plan to spend and the purpose for our visit. The more information they have with the inquiry, the more likely they are open to meeting with us.

Here are some of my favorite quotes on time:

Better three hours too soon, than one minute too late.
William Shakespeare

A man who dares to waste one hour of life has not discovered the value of life.
Charles Darwin

All that really belongs to us is time; even he who has nothing else has that.
Baltasar Gracian

The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.
Michael Altshuler

If not now, when?

Lizzy Miles, MA, MSW, LSW is a hospice social worker in Columbus, Ohio and regular contributor to Lizzy authored a book of happy hospice stories: Somewhere In Between: The Hokey Pokey, Chocolate Cake and the Shared Death Experience. Lizzy is best known for bringing the Death Cafe concept to the United States. You can find her on Twitter @LizzyMiles_MSW.

Photo credits: 
Cover image uses photo from Jon Tyson via Unsplash
watch via Wil Stewart on Unsplash

Wednesday, May 22, 2019 by Lizzy Miles ·

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Comfort Care, Whatever Does That Mean?

by Michael Pottash (@mpottash)

Comfort Care, whatever does that mean? This is the important question asked by my colleagues Anne Kelemen and Hunter Groninger in the September 2018 issue of JAMA Internal Medicine. The term is ubiquitous and its interpretation influences how patients with end stage illness are cared for at the end of their lives. In their article they argue that the language of Comfort Care is confusing and easily misunderstood. They suggest improving the understanding around end of life care and moving to a less ambiguous term for care of the dying. I worry that any term to describe dying care will always be problematic.

So what is Comfort Care? One common definition comes from Blinderman and Billings, writing in the New England Journal of Medicine, defining it as “the most basic palliative care interventions that provide immediate relief of symptoms in a patient who is very close to death.” Another is from the National Institute on Aging, describing Comfort Care as “care that helps or soothes a person who is dying ... to prevent or relieve suffering as much as possible and to improve quality of life while respecting the dying person’s wishes.” Both definitions are simple enough, and yet lack any specifics or direction for clinicians. This leaves the practice of Comfort Care up for interpretation.

Kelemen points out the pitfalls in operationalizing this vague term. First, it promotes a dangerous misconception that clinical care is binary and that patients must choose between focusing on comfort or not. Second, Kelemen cites a study demonstrating that while the term is ubiquitous, clinicians don’t actually know what it means. This leads to ambiguity around what kinds of medical interventions constitute Comfort Care and to a wide disparity in which medical interventions clinicians apply under the circumstance. Worse, some seem to think that it means methodically titrating up an opioid infusion: “Nearly half [of surveyed physicians] expressed a belief that Comfort Measures Only care is itself an indication for more aggressive opioid administration than for other patients, regardless of clinical condition. This is of concern because it seems to obviate the critical need for nuanced assessment that drives symptom management.” Administration of inappropriately high dose opioids will hasten death; this is at best bad medicine and at worst euthanasia.

Blinderman agrees:

“However, the term is often used in a misleading or imprecise manner — for example, when such care is automatically considered equivalent to a do-not-resuscitate order and, perhaps even without discussion with the patient, is extrapolated to mean the exclusion of a full range of palliative measures appropriate for a dying patient. Rather than simply writing orders for “comfort care” (or “intensive comfort measures,” the term that we prefer), the medical team should review the entire plan of care and enter explicit orders to promote comfort and prevent unnecessary interventions.”

A Pallimed post by Drew Rosielle from 2016 made a similar protest:

“One, it amplifies the already irksome and unnecessary dichotomy we have set up in medicine between 'cure' and 'comfort’... What we are trying to do in palliative care is to reduce the gap between the two, to help our patients feel better as they live longer… Two, it's confusing for patients and should never be said in front of them. I've seen it lead to stupid miscommunication many times. Like someone asking a patient 'Do you want comfort care?' 'Do you want us to focus on keeping you comfortable?' and the patient saying 'Yes of course' not realizing that the clinician was actually saying 'Should we stop efforts to prolong your life and *only* provide ongoing interventions to alleviate symptoms/provide comfort?'”

To summarize: Comfort Care is confusing to patients and families, no one knows how to provide it, and it can be harmful.

Here is the kicker from Kelemen:

“End-of-life care plans must be specific to the patient and family, reflecting their values and goals for that critical event and universal experience. To highlight this, we coach colleagues and families to consider every therapeutic intervention—for example, each medication, laboratory test, imaging study—and evaluate whether that intervention promotes the goal of alleviating symptom burden during the dying process. If it does (eg, oxygen administration in hypoxia), we continue it; if not (eg, the ubiquitous statin therapy), then perhaps it could be discontinued after reassuring communication with patients and families.”

Let’s treat dying patients as we would treat any patients: as thinking clinicians. Continue treatments that meet the goals of the patient and family, and discontinue treatments that do not. If the goals of the patient and family are to prioritize symptom management over life prolongation then ask the question of every test, intervention, or medication: Does this promote quality of life? Some life-prolonging interventions can be continued without impacting quality, if the patient so chooses. This will all depend on the patient’s preferences and the clinical context. That is why it is impossible to create a Comfort Care algorithm, bundle, or pathway - clinical reasoning is still required.

While my colleagues believe that we should use clearer language or work towards a unified understanding of Comfort Care, I would argue that we should get rid of it altogether. Do we need a term for taking care of dying patients in the hospital? If it does not indicate a clinical pathway or answer an urgent clinical question, then what is its benefit? Rather, in my experience, I have only seen it cause confusion, miscommunication, and unethical medical practice. Kelemen has identified a crucial blind spot in our collective medical practice, one that I fear is a symptom of a general misunderstanding and discomfort with how to care for the dying. Let’s teach our trainees to continue reasoning through clinical decisions to the end of a patient’s life, and to provide good medical care even if all that entails is sitting at the bedside to hold their patient’s hand.

Disclosure: Anne Kelemen and Hunter Groninger are dear friends and colleagues.

Michael Pottash MD MPH is a Palliative Medicine Physician at MedStar Washington Hospital Center and Assistant Professor of Medicine at Georgetown University School of Medicine. He is currently very curious to know who will end up sitting on the Iron Throne.


1 Kelemen AM, Groninger H. Ambiguity in End-of-Life Care Terminology - What Do We Mean by Comfort Care? JAMA Internal Medicine. 2018

2 Blinderman CD, Billings JA. Comfort Care for Patients Dying in the Hospital. New England Journal of Medicine. 2015.

3 National Institute on Aging. Providing Comfort at the End of Life. Accessed 2018. 4 Zanartu C, Matti-Orozco BM. Comfort Measures Only: Agreeing on a Common Definition Through a Survey. Am J Hospice and Palliative Care. 2013

Saturday, May 4, 2019 by Pallimed Editor ·

Sunday, April 28, 2019

We, Too

by Abby Rosenberg (@AbbyRosenbergMD)

I didn’t want to be another “me too” story. I am becoming one, now, because I believe in the power of a collective voice.

You see, there is something terribly lonely about experiencing sexual harassment. And, there is something incredibly powerful about the quiet moment when you finally, bravely, share your story. There is something bittersweet about knowing you are not alone.

Sexual harassment in medicine is common. Over 50% of women medical students experience it before they graduate.(1) Disparities in women’s salaries, grant-funding, academic rank, and leadership opportunities are well-documented. (2-9) While sexual harassment (inappropriate and overtly sexual behavior) is often publicized only after an egregious action and corresponding court or media coverage, “gender harassment” (the broad-range of verbal and non-verbal behaviors conveying insulting, hostile, objectifying, exclusive, belittling, and/or degrading attitudes about one gender) is far more common and insidious. (1) Tolerance of both sexual and gender harassment has been the accepted “price that women pay for a career in medicine.” (10,11)

I was willing to pay this price until I experienced it within our communities of palliative care, bioethics, and humanities. When it came from the people who were supposed to model the highest standards of respect and support, it was all the more stunning, all the more painful, and all the more debilitating. Worse, as I described my own stories of sexual and gender harassment to other women across the country (both within and outside of palliative care and ethics communities), they reciprocated. Our experiences were common. Professionals in palliative care, ethics, and humanities are just as capable of gender harassment as the rest of our medical colleagues.

I and/or my peers in palliative care, ethics, and humanities have experienced all of the following. The references emphasize their commonality within our larger medical community. The reason to share these experiences here is simple: we want our women colleagues to know they are not alone.

- If you have ever been touched inappropriately, kissed, groped, or otherwise assaulted, you are not alone. (1,2,12)

- If you have been invited to talk about or participate in sexual experiences with a male superior, you are not alone. (1,2)

- If you have been physically or emotionally threatened by a male superior, you are not alone. (1,2)

- If you have been called “tasty,” “yummy,” delicious,” “an appetizer,” or any other edible derogative, you are not alone.

- If you have been told you are too attractive, too feminine, too masculine, or too ugly to be successful, you are not alone. (2,13)

- If you have been told that being a mother, single, partnered, a wife, a divorcée, or a daughter means you will not be successful in medicine, you are not alone. (2,13)

- If you have been told “you are not ready” for promotion, despite your meeting written qualifications, you are not alone. (2,13)

- If you have had to demonstrate greater academic productivity to be promoted than your male colleagues, you are not alone. (2,13,14)

- If you have worked in an environment where all or most of the leadership positions are held by men, you are not alone. (1,2,7,13,15)

- If these male leaders have known histories of sexual harassment, you are not alone. (16)

- If you have been offered teaching leadership positions rather than your asked-for executive leadership positions, you are not alone. (1,2,15)

- If you have received less salary for an otherwise identical job to a male, you are not alone. (1,2,5,9)

- If you have received less institutional support for career development than an otherwise equivalent male counterpart, you are not alone. (1-4,17)

- If you have received critical subjective feedback rather than constructive objective or positive feedback, you are not alone. (2,18,19)

- If you have been told to be “softer,” “less assertive,” “more quiet,” or “less bossy,” you are not alone. (13,20)

- If you have been called “abrasive,” “shrill,” “strident,” “pushy,” “angry,” or “aggressive,” you are not alone. (13)

- If you have felt shame because you are a victim, you are not alone. (1,21)

- If you notice that women speak several times in meetings before being recognized, whereas men speak once and are acknowledged, you are not alone. (13)

- If you notice that women speak a fraction of the time that men do in meetings, you are not alone. (22)

- If you notice that men speak over and around women, re-explain their words, or generally seek to have the last word in discussions, you are not alone. (22)

- If you have been labeled as “difficult” for trying to make change, you are not alone. (13,18,20)

- If a male colleague has loudly suggested you curtail your advocacy efforts, while multiple women quietly thank you, you are not alone. (13,23)

- If you have been told to “be more grateful,” “keep your head down,” “practice meditation,” or otherwise improve yourself in order to handle gender harassment, you are not alone. (2)

- If you have heard, “he doesn’t mean it that way,” “he is from another generation,” “he is a leader in his field,” or some other excuse to tolerate poor behavior, you are not alone. (24)

- If a male mentor has distanced himself from you because “you might accuse [him] too,” you are not alone. (25)

- If you have witnessed perpetrators receive “executive coaching” or “leadership development” opportunities to fix their behavior, while the women victims are left to wait, hope, or suffer in silence, you are not alone. (26)

- If you have felt unsupported by your colleagues, leadership, or larger institution, you are not alone. (1,26)

- If you have observed other men (and women) bystanders look the other way rather than intervene to stop gender discrimination, you are not alone. (1)

- If you have stayed silent for fear of losing your job, you are not alone. (1,10,11,26)

- If you have spoken up and experienced retaliation compromising your physical or emotional health, or your career development, you are not alone. (1,11,26,27)

- If you have chosen continued poor physical or emotional health over speaking up, you are not alone. (1,11,21,26,27)

- If you have avoided your workplace or a colleague because you feel unsafe, you are not alone. (1,11,26)

- If you have noticed your avoidance is compromising your upward mobility and opportunities, you are not alone. (1,11,26)

- If you have experienced burnout or considered leaving medicine altogether as a result of your experiences with gender harassment, you are not alone. (1,11,21,26)

- If you have felt supported by your institution because it has transparent policies such as equity report-cards, 360-degree evaluation procedures, zero tolerance of repeat offenders, alternative reporting options, protection from retaliation, and efforts to promote women leaders, you are not alone. (1,2,10,11,28)

- If you have felt grateful to men and women colleagues who stand with you, listen to you, speak for you, and champion your cause even at personal expense, you are not alone. (1,2,10,11)

- If you have been inspired by the bravery of those who share their stories and speak for change, you are not alone.

We can do better than this in palliative care. We are a community trained to see our patients and colleagues as human beings with equal value. We are the ones who listen. We are the ones who speak for the vulnerable.

I know there are myriad more experiences. To all of you who are suffering in silence, you are not alone. We are listening. We are speaking. “We, too,” are with you.

Abby R. Rosenberg, MD, MS, MA, is a pediatric oncologist, bioethicist, and palliative care physician and researcher. Her hobbies include narrative writing and, when needed, change-making.

1. Sexual Harassment of Women: climate, culture, and consequences in academic sciences, engineering, and medicine. Washington, DC: National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; 2018.
2. Kang SK, Kaplan S. Working toward gender diversity and inclusion in medicine: myths and solutions. Lancet. 2019;393(10171):579-586.
3. Witteman HO. Gender bias in academia. Lancet. 2019;393(10173):743-744.
4. Witteman HO, Hendricks M, Straus S, Tannenbaum C. Are gender gaps due to evaluations of the applicant or the science? A natural experiment at a national funding agency. Lancet. 2019;393(10171):531-540.
5. Jena AB, Olenski AR, Blumenthal DM. Sex Differences in Physician Salary in US Public Medical Schools. JAMA Intern Med. 2016;176(9):1294-1304.
6. Jena AB, Khullar D, Ho O, Olenski AR, Blumenthal DM. Sex Differences in Academic Rank in US Medical Schools in 2014. JAMA. 2015;314(11):1149-1158.
7. Wehner MR, Nead KT, Linos K, Linos E. Plenty of moustaches but not enough women: cross sectional study of medical leaders. BMJ. 2015;351:h6311.
8. The Lancet. Feminism is for everybody. Lancet. 2019;393(10171):493.
9. Glauser W. Why are women still earning less than men in medicine? CMAJ. 2018;190(21):E664-E665. 10. Choo EK, van Dis J, Kass D. Time's Up for Medicine? Only Time Will Tell. N Engl J Med. 2018;379(17):1592-1593.
11. The Lancet. Time's up for sexual harassment in medicine. Lancet. 2018;391(10140):2576. 12. Clancy KB, Nelson RG, Rutherford JN, Hinde K. Survey of academic field experiences (SAFE): trainees report harassment and assault. PLoS One. 2014;9(7):e102172.
13. Williams JC, Phillips KW, Hall EV. Double Jeopardy? Gender Bias Against Women of Color in Science. 2015.
14. Raymond JL, Goodman MB. Funders should evaluate projects, not people. Lancet. 2019;393(10171):494-495.
15. Chisholm-Burns MA, Spivey CA, Hagemann T, Josephson MA. Women in leadership and the bewildering glass ceiling. Am J Health Syst Pharm. 2017;74(5):312-324.
16. Johnson CY, Guarino B. After outcry, Yale removes prestigious honor from professor who sezually harassed a colleague. Washington Post 2018.
17. Sege R, Nykiel-Bub L, Selk S. Sex Differences in Institutional Support for Junior Biomedical Researchers. JAMA. 2015;314(11):1175-1177.
18. Cecchi-Dimeglio P. How Gender Bias Corrupts Performance Reviews, and What to Do About It. Harvard Business Review 2017.
19. Evans J, Slaugher J, Ellis A, Rivin J. Making Jokes During a Presentation Helps Men but Hurts Women. Harvard Business Review 2019.
20. Dzau VJ, Johnson PA. Ending Sexual Harassment in Academic Medicine. N Engl J Med. 2018;379(17):1589-1591.
21. O'Neil A, Sojo V, Fileborn B, Scovelle AJ, Milner A. The #MeToo movement: an opportunity in public health? Lancet. 2018;391(10140):2587-2589.
22. Powell K. How female scientists can confront gender bias in the workplace. Nature. 2018;561(7723):421-423.
23. Berg S. 4 qualities women leaders need in medicine to succeed. AMA Wire. 2018. https: wire.ama-assn.irg/life-career/4-qualities-women-leaders-medicine-need-succeed? Accessed 10/26/2018.
24. Jagsi R. Sexual Harassment in Medicine - #MeToo. N Engl J Med. 2018;378(3):209-211.
25. Soklaridis S, Zahn C, Kuper A, Gillis D, Taylor VH, Whitehead C. Men's Fear of Mentoring in the #MeToo Era - What's at Stake for Academic Medicine? N Engl J Med. 2018;379(23):2270-2274.
26. Fnais N, Soobiah C, Chen MH, et al. Harassment and discrimination in medical training: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Acad Med. 2014;89(5):817-827.
27. Abbasi J. Sexual Harassment and Assault Associated With Poorer Midlife Health in Women. JAMA. 2019;321(3):234-236.
28. Westring AF, Speck RM, Sammel MD, et al. A culture conducive to women's academic success: development of a measure. Acad Med. 2012;87(11):1622-1631.

Sunday, April 28, 2019 by Christian Sinclair ·

Monday, April 22, 2019

Confessions of a First Time Presenter

By Kristin Edwards (@KristinMDCT)

I’ve been attending the Annual Assembly of Hospice and Palliative Care (AAHPM/HPNA) for nearly a decade, but this is the first year I presented a concurrent session. As I return to work, the glow from my 15 minutes of Friday morning fame fading away, I wanted to share a few thoughts for those who, might feel intimidated about submitting an abstract.

An abstract can only be accepted if it is submitted.

I spent years coming up with ideas for a presentation, but ultimately deciding they were not good enough. A trusted mentor encouraged me to submit my ideas anyway. He saw value in the process even if it meant I might get rejected. The process was an opportunity to learn what messages I wanted to share, develop the ideas fully, and receive feedback, thereby refining those messages. That said, only approximately 20% of abstracts are accepted for presentation at the AAHPM’s Assembly, and getting the rejection can sting. It is helpful, therefore, to have an alternate plan beforehand, whether it be submission to a journal, blog, or other conference, or to rework it and submit again in the future.

“I don’t have any collaborators” probably means “I haven’t reached out.”

I often limited myself because I thought I didn’t know anyone in the field with whom to collaborate, and hadn’t considered collaborating with those outside the field. Last year, when I had an idea worthy of submission, I reached out via AAHPM Connect, an online community for those in hospice and palliative medicine, and quickly found several people willing to collaborate. Multiple professional venues provide ways to find potential collaborators, such as list-serves, social media, and collegial networks.

Submitting an abstract with others helps you and your colleagues grow.

One of the most rewarding things in my daily practice is helping others grow, especially across levels of experience, disciplines, or specialties. Collaborating with others on a presentation was a powerful way to get non- PC colleagues exposed to palliative care, early-career colleagues enthusiastic about national involvement, and experienced colleagues invested in mentoring junior colleagues.

Work done in collaboration almost always turns out better.

The initial vision I had for our presentation was adequate, but it was so much better after several rounds of group discussion. Each of us brought a different perspective, skill set, and experience. Far from being limited by people you may worry are “the weakest link,” the presentation was all the more powerful thanks to the diversity of thought and contagious enthusiasm. And we had a lot of fun in the process.

You have something to offer!

Wisdom comes with experience and applied knowledge. Attendees at health care conferences include many who are primarily clinical. You do not need to conduct randomized controlled trials to have a good idea for submission. While scientific studies are critical for advancing our field, there is also value in showing how clinicians have effectively integrated research into clinical practice or created effective models for delivering care.

Presentations honor our patients and renew our compassion.

In palliative care, we learn from the experiences our patients and families generously share with us. When we present at a conference, even if we don’t discuss specific patient stories, we share what our patients have taught us. By sharing those lessons with a broader audience, we may help bring purpose to some of the suffering. We experience renewed compassion when we interact with participants after a presentation, who connect us with others who have similar experiences.

Find a mentor to guide you.

Mentors may have experience navigating implicit expectations for abstract and publication submissions. Mentors may be senior to you and can also be peers; powerful learning goes both ways. I had the great fortune to work with a mentor through the AAHPM Mentor Match program. Mentor Match is an online part of AAHPM where members can find other members willing to be mentors from specific backgrounds or in specific areas. Especially if you have a specific skill to develop, reach out to find a mentor in that area.

Drafting an abstract requires a relatively small investment of time, but comes with so many personal and professional benefits. The personal learning, professional connections, renewed enthusiasm, and growth opportunities are well worth the risk of rejection. So if you have an idea you’ve considered, think about reaching out to your community, get input from others, and take a chance to submit.

The deadline for AAHPM concurrent session abstracts for 2020 is May 1st, 2019.

Kristin Edwards, MD, FAAHPM is the medical director of Palliative Care at Yale New Haven Health - Bridgeport Hospital. Her passion is palliative care, medicine, education, and resilience. You can find her on Twitter at @KristinMDCT.

Monday, April 22, 2019 by Pallimed Editor ·

Sunday, April 14, 2019

A High Level Review of Medical Marijuana

by Bob Arnold (@rabob)

This article isn’t going to change your practice. Why am I reviewing Braun et al.’s survey regarding oncologists’ beliefs, practices, and knowledge regarding medical marijuana use? 1. I went to a Willie Nelson concert and my clothes still reek of marijuana; 2. One of my palliative care fellows is interested in understanding Palliative Care clinicians’ educational needs regarding marijuana; 3. I visited a dispensary in Pennsylvania where I was told medical marijuana treats diseases ranging from opioid addiction to headaches to nausea and vomiting (in pregnant woman). This annoyed me and I wanted to see what other doctors thought.

First, a caveat, I have provided medical care for HIV positive patients for over 25 years and I view recreational marijuana use like recreational alcohol use, something that is a personal choice and of minimal risk. I am not sure of marijuana’s medicinal effects (I believe the data is very poor) and I think in moderation it is safe.

When Pennsylvania legalized medical marijuana, I signed up and of the roughly 25% of the patients I see in my oncology palliative care practice are referred by oncologists for medical marijuana. Everyone asks me about medical marijuana – from the administrative assistants to my colleagues and oncologists. I therefore was quite interested to learn what Braun et al. had discovered regarding oncologists’ beliefs, practices, and knowledge about therapeutic marijuana use. (1) They surveyed a nationally representative sample of oncologists including medical, gynecological, neurological, and pediatric who were involved in patient care. Radiation oncologists were excluded. They were interested in whether oncologists reported discussing medical marijuana with patients, recommended it, or felt sufficiently informed to make such recommendations. The survey also queried oncologists’ views on medical marinjuana’s comparative effectiveness for several conditions. Bivariate and multivariate analyses were performed using standard statistical techniques.

They surveyed 400 medical oncologists and had a response rate of 63%. The oncologists were predominantly white males and were equally split between being in practice less than 15 years, 15-24 years, and greater than 25 years. Interesting they didn’t tell me how many of them used marijuana recreationally or what their views were about recreational marijuana. Roughly 50% practiced in states where medical marijuana was legalized.

Despite only 50% practicing in a state where medical marijuana was legalized, 80% had discussed it with patients and 46% had recommended it to at least one patient in the last year. Only 25% felt sufficiently knowledgeable to make recommendations and 56% of those who had recommended it did not consider themselves to have sufficient knowledge to make a recommendation.

Given their lack of knowledge their views regarding medical marijuana’s effectiveness for various symptoms should be taken with a grain of salt. Regarding pain they were split a third yes, a third no, a third don’t know; regarding anorexia 60% thought it was equally or more effective than standard therapies; 45% thought it equally or more effective for anxiety. Oncologists viewed medical marijuana as lower risk than opiates for death and addiction, and comparable to opiates for paranoia and confusion.

As a study, this survey is rigorously conducted. They based the survey on semi-structured interviews with key informants and did cognitive interviews prior to finalizing the instrument. They had a highly trained group administer the survey. Their response rate was great for physicians and their sample was nationally representative. Their aims were clear, and their survey questions and analysis allowed them to answer aims.

My concerns have to do with the study implications ( here comes the personal opinion). First, should doctors make recommendations for a therapy that they report not competent to talk about? If we had good data on the effects of medical marijuana and this was just a problem of education, then the solution would be to train doctors. However, the problem is that there is NO DATA and our federal government has been unwilling to fund studies of effectiveness. (2,3) We are flying blind and not trying to shed light on the topic. Second, at least in Pennsylvania, we have a very weird system where my opinion as a doctor does not really matter. From a legal point of view, all I do is certify that the patients have a condition that the legislature approves them to receive a medical marijuana card. They then go to a dispensary where others advise the patient on dose and type of marijuana. The scientific basis of these recommendations – given the lack of data – is unclear. And dispensaries – despite prescribing medical marijuana - are not part of the healthcare system. Their records are not integrated into the health care system, they do not know the patient’s other medications, and there is little communication with certifying clinicians. Third, given the rates of medical marijuana use in states like California (4% of the population in one study; 916,000 in another report) and the overlap between medical and recreational use (3,4), one wonders if the doctors aren’t too loosely interpreting the criteria. (5)

Rather than medicalizing marijuana, why not legalize it?(6) Then patients can take it or not take it the same way they decide to have a drink and we as clinicians won’t be responsible for pretending that we know enough and that there is enough knowledge to recommend it for medicinal purposes.

So, reading this article largely made me frustrated about our national public policy and views regarding science. It also made me wonder about a number of other projects that need to be done: 1. What are Palliative Care clinician’s views about this matter?; 2. What is the use of marijuana in states where it is legal compared to states where it is only legal if prescribed by a physician?; and 3. How does Willie Nelson stay so thin (and look so healthy) given the amounts of marijuana at his concerts?

More Pallimed posts from Bob Arnold can be found here.
More Pallimed journal article reviews can be found here.
More Pallimed posts on marijuana can be found here.

Robert Arnold MD is a palliative care doctor at the University of Pittsburgh and a co-founder of VitalTalk. He loves both high and low brow comedy (The Good Place and Nanette), pop culture (the National Enquirer and Pop Culture Happy hour) and music of all kinds (not opera tho!)


1 Braun IM, Wright A, Petett J, Meyer FL, et al. Medical Oncologists’ Beliefs, Practices, and Knowledge Regarding Marijuana Used Therapeutically: A Nationally Representative Survey Study DOI: 10.1200/JCO.2017.76.1221 Journal of Clinical Oncology 36, no. 19 (July 1, 2018) 1957-1962.

2 Whiting PF, Wolff RF, Deshpande S, et al. Cannabinoids for Medical Use Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA. 2015;313(24):2456-2473. doi:10.1001/jama.2015.6358

3 The Pennsylvania law regarding medical marijuana includes a research arm. See

4 From . Accessed Sept 26, 2018.

5 Choi NG, DiNitto DM, Marti CM. Nonmedical versus medical marijuana use about three age groups of adults: Association with mental and physical health status. Am J on Addiction. 2017: (26): 697-706

6 Interestingly on the day I wrote this, a Pennsylvania legislature introduced a bill legalizing Marijuana.

Sunday, April 14, 2019 by Pallimed Editor ·

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Getting Advocacy Right

by Christian Sinclair (@ctsinclair)

An article about end-of-life care has been making the rounds this week by Haider Warraich, MD from the online magazine Vox. Titled, "The way we die will be considered unthinkable 50 years from now", it is part of a series asking 15 experts to think about how the actions we take now will look like errors in 2070. I have seen people on Facebook and Twitter share it with quotes pulled or superlatives attached. Yet when I read it, I didn't feel the same enthusiasm; I felt frustrated.

When you read the article, key points seem to be very supportive of palliative care and hospice efforts, but on closer inspection of how our field is being presented by a cardiologist, he simply reinforces the same misconceptions of what good end-of-life care can be. I will illustrate some examples below, but first, it may help to understand the writer of this piece, Dr. Haider Warraich. He is a cardiology fellow in the heart failure program at Duke and has written a book, "Modern Death: How Medicine Changed the End of Life." He has published research on prognostication in heart failure and numerous opinion pieces in the New York Times along with other prominent online news sites. He clearly is very interested in end-of-life topics, and by his numerous pieces, he is positioned as an advocate for hospice and palliative care. Yet when I read his pieces, I am reminded of the physician or nurse who likes palliative care a lot, gets us involved early and often, but at certain times, there is a small but significant misunderstanding of what our role in a case may be. I am reminded of Stefan Friechsdorf's concept of 'pallilalia,' which he characterizes as when "repetitive absurdities are spoken about palliative care in general and the PPC program specifically, without anything being done to advance its development." I don't think Warraich is being absurd; I do find his writing to be earnest. But I am concerned his effort is potentially damaging.

Now that the scene is established, let's break down the article, and see why this messaging around palliative care is not as clear as it needs to be.

First, the anecdotes. Two anecdotes highlighting doctors ignoring patient's wishes; one from 50 years ago in which more aggressive care was given, and one recounting a story where DNR orders were placed on patients without patient or family knowledge. Both are awful stories but are not representative of health care today, and if that is being done in 2019, that should be reviewed by the hospital, the medical board and possibly courts. But the reader take-away is: "Don't trust doctors. They're sneaky and won't listen to you." Not a great starting point to a far more complex problem.

Other issues with the anecdotes are present. The 1st anecdote was published in BMJ in 1968, but refers to an overseas hospital, presumably not the United States. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ The 2nd anecdote links to a 2004 book, instead of an original reference from...1984. THIRTY-FIVE YEARS AGO! Anecdotes from 50 years and 35 years ago do not represent the standard of care in 2019. I get the point was to tie to a historical look-back, but it just reinforces mistrust, which will come back a little bit later.

I'm totally great with the 3rd paragraph. No issues there. Good generalizable statements. But the 4th paragraph is where the messaging gets really muddled. Warraich's description of palliative care, aimed at a lay audience, is not correct and he repeats it back-to-back: "patients receiving palliative care, which is an approach that focuses on quality rather than quantity of life, can actually live longer."; "While the goal of palliative care is to help people with a serious illness live as well as possible — physically, emotionally and spiritually — rather than as long as possible..." When you look at established definitions of palliative care (AAHPM, CAPC, WHO, NHPCO, and others), none highlight an oppositional approach of quality vs quantity. If you are a palliative care or hospice clinician, who uses an oppositional definition for palliative care, you need to stop, because it doesn't help. Describe what we do. Do not define something by what is not done. Palliative care does not bake cakes, but no one would consider that as part of our definition. Palliative care is patient-centered care to improve quality of life by reducing suffering for patients and families. Done. Fin. And regarding the life-prolonging endorsement by Warraich, we should not be dangling that carrot, especially when the evidence is weak at best. As Drew Rosielle wrote,

I think we should be satisfied with the 'helping them have better QOL part.'

In the 5th paragraph, the lumping together of pacemakers and left-ventricular assist devices (LVAD) is problematic. Deactivating defibrillators (not mentioned in the article), pacemakers and LVADs all bring up unique aspects of ethics, cardiology management, and comfort. LVAD utilization is increasing, presenting some ethical challenges that medical teams, patients and families are able to work through with good communication. Guidelines reinforce the early integration of palliative care for people eligible for LVAD therapy, and this rollout has been helpful to balance technology advances with patient-centered care.. That would be great to highlight, but Warraich does not. Instead, he cites a Sep 2017 study that shows 13% of cardiologists believe deactivating an LVAD is a form of euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide, but in the Vox piece he writes, "Many patients with terminal illnesses who want to deactivate these devices find resistance from the health system, since some continue to equate deactivating them with euthanasia." [Picks jaw up off floor]. When you bring up a deeply complex ethical and social issue like euthanasia in the first 5 minutes, you instantly polarize your readership. Are there times when it is important to discuss topics like requests for hastened death? Sure. But not right here, not right now. Just bringing it up in this nonchalant way, Warraich essentially weds the issue to palliative care to the reader.

OK, 6th paragraph, I'm getting a little fatigued at this point, but let's keep going! Warraich brings up the name issue - palliative care freaks people out. But as we also saw this week, palliative care is the fire department, not the fire. In citing two articles about patient and physician association of palliative care with end of life, he again inextricably ties together that palliative care *is* all about end of life, even though he ultimately argues for a concurrent model of palliative care. He also links to an article and the accompanying editorial about teams changing the name 'palliative care' to 'supportive care', and implies when people think about palliative care they have every right to think 'they will be abandoned.' To a public reader, this whole paragraph boils down to, "Many patients and doctors think palliative care only means end-of-life care. Pretty scary to think about these beliefs I am reinforcing. Then doctors change their team name so you will not be scared, even though you should be scared because I already reinforced your beliefs. Remember when I started off this piece saying doctors are sneaky?" Ugh, I feel like this battle will never end. But I am encouraged because I know this is not what I and many other palliative care teams see everyday. While this would never be published as research, there are many programs including my own that have grown year over year at a steady pace, and they never changed their name.

As the piece reaches the conclusion, Warraich undermines his own argument of palliative care involvement and cites the 2016 JAMA 'Fast-food style palliative care' study which was critically panned by Alex Smith at GeriPal. The Vox piece emphasizes that palliative care increases PTSD symptoms in family members. Warraich uses this to advocate for better discussions led by the primary teams, a noble goal that many palliative care teams are working towards in their institutions. But, if you read Alex Smith's analysis of this study on GeriPal, you can see this study was not full-contact palliative care as practiced in many hospitals today. If anything, this study should support early involvement before a crisis, more funding and collaborative management by primary teams and palliative care teams. I appreciate the shoutout for lack of a palliative care workforce to handle these situations, but if he is saying we cause PTSD, why would anyone want more palliative care clinicians?

The conclusion finishes a bit stronger except for the line, "End-of-life care is not just palliative care’s business," which again seems like an advocacy line, but instead is a step backward. This backfire effect is illustrated well in a paper by Nyhan and Reifler who looked at messaging around the religious beliefs of President Obama in 2009. The backfire effect is essentially when someone's strongly held beliefs are challenged by opposing facts, their original beliefs are paradoxically strengthened. When we deny misinformation, it reinforces the misinformation. Therefore we should focus on the positive/truthful associations. So given that I addressed a lot of misrepresentations in the Warraich Vox piece, I also plan to publish an alternate universe version in the coming days.

So my take-home points for you as a potential advocate for palliative care, hospice, or just better health care in general:
- Highlight the positive impact of our work
- Do not define what you do by telling people what you don't do
- Read articles before you share them on social media
- Don't share articles that reinforce poor representation of our field

Christian Sinclair, MD, FAAHPM, is a palliative care physician at the University of Kansas Health System and editor-in-chief for Pallimed. He hopes to one day write a book like Dr. Haider Warraich has already done, and appreciates all non-palliative care clinicians who advocate for better end-of-life care. He also recognizes that his own writings in the past, present and future may not always best represent pallative care and is open to feedback.

Multiple times in this article 'end of life care' is referenced, but it should be written as 'end-of-life care.' This second way demonstrates that 'end of life' is being used as an adjective to describe the type of care, instead of the stopping of 'life care.' That one is on the editor, not the author.

The other one being: check the URL. The URL for this article includes 'end-of-life-palliative-care' essentially linking those two as inseparable for anyone who bothers to look at the actual link. That is on the website, not the author, but if we are trying to change how palliative care is presented, small things like this add up.

Sunday, April 7, 2019 by Christian Sinclair ·

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Palliative Care Social Work: A Year of Leadership

by Vickie Leff (@VickieLeff) and Allie Shukraft (@Alifrumcally)

It has been an amazing year for those of us who are palliative care social workers. The 4th edition of National Palliative Care Guidelines, published this fall, adding several psychosocial focused domains to the list of best care practices.1 Many of the 8 domains specifically highlight the expert skill set of social workers on the interdisciplinary team. Palliative care social workers were delighted to see these highlighted in the guidelines. Palliative Care teams work best when they allow members to practice to the top of their license. Although there is often overlap, especially in the arena of psychosocial care, social workers are usually the backbone of providing these services.

We saw the FIRST advanced practice, evidence-based certification for palliative care & hospice social workers open for testing in January 2019: a significant step for social workers in a concerted effort to be recognized and respected for our work within the field. The APHSW-C certification was the result of years of work, spearheaded by Barbara Head and the leadership of Social Work in Hospice and Palliative Network (SWHPN). Comprehensive, evidence-based standards were developed and reviewed by experts in the field.2 The result is a pathway for pc and hospice social workers to validate their special skill set, which may, over time, lead not only to increased validity but more leadership and financial opportunities. Hopefully, this advanced practice certification will lead to increased financial opportunities such as pay increases for those with the certification, as well as creating the potential for inpatient palliative social workers to bill for their services, and increased opportunities outpatient billing.

While this acknowledgment and use of the social work skill set is a great step forward, we still often struggle to “prove our value” to many medical teams, some of them even our own. We cannot bill for our inpatient services, unlike other team members, and this has often led to needing to assert our skills and impact perhaps louder than others (I have a particularly “loud” reputation!). Many PC teams still don’t have a PC SW, or are understaffed by national standards.3 It’s a difficult problem, funding a position that cannot generate direct revenue. However, more and more data point the important role of psychosocial care, as evidenced by the 2018 guidelines. We know intuitively, the expertise of the social worker impacts the quality of care for our patients. Sometimes it’s harder to prove this to the folks who are responsible for the bottom line.

Another, more general, opportunity for growth for social workers in the coming year is a shift in where we see some palliative care programs “owned” within health care systems. As Palliative Care moves into the realm of population health including outpatient and home services, there will likely be more social workers in program and administration leadership positions, helping their teams and programs with these initiatives. This focus is perfect for the social work perspective of “person in environment”, first named by Mary Richmond, social worker in 1917. We see transition points in the framework of systems theory, which naturally assesses the patients’ needs in the context of where they are, meeting those needs and anticipating interventions going forward. As palliative care programs move into this home space, we encourage their use of the long-standing and well developed social work theories about how people adapt, change and cope. These skills will serve to enhance our palliative care efforts for the patients, families and our colleague providers.

Another accomplishment for palliative social work at the beginning of the year was the publication of an incredible resource for the health social worker released in 2019: Palliative Care: A Guide for Health Social Workers. Edited by B. Sumser, M. Leimena and T. Altilio, Oxford Press. The outstanding collection of authors lend their expertise to complicated theoretical frameworks, clinical interventions, case examples and a variety of overarching issues related to providing the best care to patients and families. Undoubtedly, this new book will become the teaching resource for social work academic and field work to guide health social workers when working with seriously ill and/or dying populations.

Finally, this year has seen an incredible increase in social workers in palliative care and hospice providing a variety of strategies and interventions to cope with compassion fatigue and burnout. One of the best articles came from Emily Browning on debriefings in the ICU.4 The debrief model has been used in social work for quite some time and translates extremely well to helping our colleagues with moral distress, increasing social support, decreasing isolation – all factors that impact one’s desire to leave the field.

For more Pallimed posts on Social Work, click here. For more posts by Vickie Leff, click here. For more posts by Allie Shukraft, click here.

Allie Shukraft, MAT, MSW, LCSWA is a reformed high school English teacher turned pediatric palliative care social worker with Carolinas Healthcare System in Charlotte, NC. She enjoys spending time with her family, trying out new recipes, and exploring the country whenever she can. You can find her on Twitter @Alifrumcally.

Vickie Leff, LCSW, BCD is the clinical social worker for Palliative Care at Duke University Hospital. She uses running and humor (not always at the same time!) as her primary coping mechanisms. You can follow her on Twitter @VickieLeff


1. Ferrell B, National Consensus Project Clinical Practice Guidelines for Quality Palliative Care Guidelines, 4th Edition. Journal of Palliative Medicine. 2018;2018.

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4. Browning E. Reflective Debriefing: A Social Work Intervention addressing Moral Distress among ICU Nurses. Journal of Social Eork in End of Life & Palliative Care. 2018;14(1).

Saturday, March 30, 2019 by Christian Sinclair ·

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