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Grant will aid creation of interdisciplinary oncology palliative care education program

Louisville, Ky. A multi-disciplinary team representing the schools of Medicine, Nursing and Social Work at the University of Louisville, as well as clinical pastoral education programs in three Louisville hospitals, has been awarded a grant of $1,518,092 from the National Institutes of Health that will fund the development, implementation and evaluation of an interdisciplinary oncology palliative care education program. Work related to the project will begin immediately.

"Almost every family has or will face a loved one needing cancer care, including curative treatment, symptom control and end-of-life care," said Mark Pfeifer, MD, chief medical officer for UofL Health Care and principal investigator on this project. "Patients and families need the united services of physicians, nurses, chaplains and social workers, and there is a real need for health professionals to be educated in an interdisciplinary manner to prepare them for the real-world team environments they experience once they are in practice."

The grant will be paid out over five years and the first year will be devoted to the design of an innovative and integrated oncology palliative care curriculum that will include eight learning activities that will become a required part of the curriculum for all third-year medical students, third and fourth year nursing students, master's level social work students and clinical pastoral education residents.

"The receipt of this grant is a great distinction for UofL, where we have a strong tradition of interdisciplinary collaboration and where we are well-positioned to make an even greater impact on the lives of our patients, here in Kentucky where cancer is a particularly serious public health issue," said Larry Cook, MD, executive vice president for health affairs at UofL's Health Sciences Center. "It's important to note that our faculty came up with this idea right here at UofL and won this funding through a highly competitive process."

"We envision using teaching tools that might include clinical rotations, self-study modules, reflective writing and the standardized patient program, in which patient care situations are simulated with real people," said Marcia Hern, EdD, CNS, RN, dean of the UofL School of Nursing. "From a nursing perspective we are tremendously excited about the promise of this interdisciplinary program. Nursing has a strong tradition of holistic care and this fits right in with that time-honored practice."

Said Terry Singer, PhD, dean of the Kent School of Social Work at UofL, "We are all doing great work and are dedicated to the patients, but too often we are working in silos and not recognizing each other's strengths. If we are able to work more seamlessly together, drawing on each other's capabilities more fluidly, we will be able to offer even better care to patients."

Once the teaching tools are designed they will be implemented in the curriculum where they will be continually evaluated for their effectiveness, achievement of desired outcomes, integration and sustainability. The curriculum will aim to demonstrate palliative care's core principles by integrating the technical, scientific and humanistic elements of holistic care of the cancer patient. It will include experiences that promote collaborative learning and teamwork and broaden interdisciplinary awareness, combine innovative as well as proven learning modalities and technologies and integrate interdisciplinary teaching approaches in both learning and practice of palliative care.

"Palliative care is now viewed as much more than end-of-life care," Pfeifer said. "It focuses on ongoing quality of life and well-being and is integral to the treatment of cancer patients from time of diagnosis throughout the trajectory of the illness."

Frank Woggon, PhD, supervisor of the Clinical Pastoral Education program at University of Louisville Hospital, said that the pieces have been in place for a long time, it's just time to start putting them together.

"Interestingly, the field of clinical pastoral education is a tradition that was started by physicians," he said. "They saw the need. An important part of this project and a key to its success is that continual recognition of the important roles we each play in the care of cancer patients and their families."


Contact: Lauren Williams
University of Louisville

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