Primary Palliative Care Cases Coming July 1

January 27, 2022

Available to Aquifer Curricular Partners

Aquifer — supported by the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations — has advanced the development of a national, standardized curriculum and online course that addresses critical gaps in palliative care learning across undergraduate medical and health professions education.

Initial cases for the new course—“Principles and Practice of Excellence in Primary Palliative Care”—will be available on July 1, 2022, to Aquifer Curricular Partners. Aquifer Curricular Partners subscribe to all five Aquifer Signature courses. Cases are now in development. Course content is based on the vision, principles, and learning objectives developed by the Aquifer Palliative Care Leadership Team, a group of expert interprofessional educators.

Project Report & Stakeholder Feedback

For a full update on the project and what we heard from stakeholders during the needs assessment, please review our Aquifer Palliative Care Project Report.

Why Primary Palliative Care Education?

Although palliative care is an established specialty, all providers should have the skills to provide patient-centered care. Primary palliative care knowledge and skills are critical in identifying and addressing the unmet needs of patients with serious illness, but most health professionals never receive standardized primary palliative care education. By focusing on primary palliative care, the course broadens the reach beyond the specialty — moving toward overcoming provider shortages, lack of access, and lack of training — to improve outcomes and quality of life for seriously ill patients and their families.

Project Overview

In the absence of clear national curricular standards on palliative care in medical and health professions education, the Aquifer Palliative Care Leadership Team completed a needs assessment (stakeholder surveys and focus groups) and literature review. After completing the research activities, the leadership team held a consensus conference, synthesizing the literature review and needs assessment findings into a vision statement and key guiding principles. For a full overview, please view the Aquifer Palliative Care Project Report.

Vision: Improve the capacity of the US health professions student to deliver humanistic, compassionate interprofessional care centered around patient goals of care and quality of life by applying evidence-based methods to alleviate the suffering of seriously ill patients and their families through the delivery of primary palliative care.

Principles of Primary Palliative Care Excellence

Based on the comprehensive needs assessment, the Aquifer Palliative Care Leadership Team has determined the Principles of Primary Palliative Care Excellence to elevate the primary palliative care education and training of all US health professions students, regardless of discipline. Each principle supports the advancement of primary palliative care as a competency for all health professionals. The principles determined by the team are:

  1. Alignment of care with the goals, values, and preferences of seriously ill patients based on assessed need.
  2. Interprofessional collaboration and care coordination between patients, families, healthcare teams, and systems.
  3. Evidence-based and holistic approach that addresses the physical, psychological, social, and spiritual domains across the illness trajectory from diagnosis to end-of-life.
  4. Equitable access to high-quality, culturally sensitive palliative care services for all patient populations.
  5. Education and advocacy to promote palliative care as a gold standard for serious illness care.

Case Development and Topics

Using the vision and principles as a framework, the Aquifer Palliative Care Leadership team has developed a national curriculum and learning objectives for the Aquifer cases. Primary palliative care cases are now being authored to support these learning objectives. Topics include:

  • Principles of palliative care
  • Palliative care assessment
  • Family meetings & establishing goals of care
  • Advanced Directives
  • Pediatric palliative care
  • Interprofessional roles & responsibilities as it relates to palliative care
  • Supporting patients and families in the grieving process
  • Anxiety, depression, and delirium in the context of palliative care
  • Pain management overview, pharmacologic approaches for common problems 
  • Understanding of current disparities in care/outcomes for patients with serious illness
  • Non-pain symptom management

Case features, informed by stakeholder feedback, will include videos modeling communication, authentic clinical experiences, opportunities to reflect on personal emotions, and expert advice on common dilemmas and avoiding pitfalls. The case content will serve to better equip learners with the knowledge, skills, and attitudes needed to provide patient-centered care to their communities.

Aquifer Palliative Care Leadership Team

Academic Leads: 

  • Susan Merel, MD; University of Washington
  • Mandi Sehgal, MD; Florida Atlantic University Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine/Cleveland Clinic
  • April Zehm, MD; Medical College of Wisconsin

Aquifer Lead: Sherilyn Smith, MD; Aquifer, University of Washington

Team Members:

  • Brynn Bowman, MPA; Center to Advance Palliative Care
  • Karen Bullock, PhD, LCSW, APHSW-C; North Carolina State University
  • Rebecca Edwards, Ph.D.(c), DNP, APRN, ACNP, AOCNP, ACHPN; School of Nursing, University of Alabama at Birmingham
  • Kristen Schaefer, MD, FAAPM; Care Dimensions
  • Barbara Reville, DNP, ANP-BC, ACHPN; Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
  • Paul Tatum, MD; University of Texas at Austin-Dell Medical School
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