Yale professional schools and Yale-New Haven Hospital (YNHH) religious ministries have joined forces with the School of Medicine to introduce a “blended learning” curriculum that addresses the physical, emotional, cultural and spiritual issues that arise at the end of life. With funding from the Connecticut Cancer Partnership and the state’s Department of Public Health, the medical school has collaborated with the Yale School of Nursing, the Yale Divinity School, the Yale University Chaplain’s Office and the palliative care services of YNHH to develop an interdisciplinary program that will focus on symptom management, culture and spirituality and the importance of a multidisciplinary team approach to patient care at the end of life.

“The primary goal of palliative care is to prevent and relieve the burdens imposed by diseases and their treatments,” says Matthew S. Ellman, M.D., assistant professor of medicine and director of end-of-life care skills education at the School of Medicine. “The focus is not just the disease; rather, palliative care focuses on alleviating symptoms, whether physical, emotional or spiritual, to improve quality of life in persons with advanced illness. Without the spiritual component, this care is not complete for some patients.”

The curriculum will be required for medical students, and nursing and divinity students are being urged to participate as well. Blended learning will be accomplished by combining learning vehicles, such as web-based courses and traditional face-to-face classroom activities. Students will work through online interactive cases. They will then participate in workshops, moderated by faculty from each school, in which they will share their ideas and experiences with other students to appreciate the value of interdisciplinary teamwork in the care of patients. Through the combined resources, students will learn to recognize spiritual distress in patients, and how to conduct an empathetic, respectful, open-ended dialogue to help reveal the patient’s concerns, as well as other interventions to provide support and encouragement. Participating students also will be encouraged to consider how their own spiritual and cultural beliefs might affect the way they relate to and provide care for patients at the end of life.

Once the program is fully established, the curriculum will be made available to other Connecticut institutions for use in palliative care education. For additional information about this program, please see the end-of-life and palliative care education website.