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End-of-Life Care Gets Emphasis in New Yale Curriculum

June 27, 2008
by Bill Hathaway and Michael Greenwood

What is a good death and how can the health care team provide the best care for patients near the end of life? There are no easy answers, but beginning this fall Yale University students will grapple with these issues under a blended learning curriculum designed to address the physical, emotional, cultural and spiritual needs that occur at the end of life.

The Yale School of Medicine has received funding through the Connecticut Cancer Partnership and the state’s Department of Public Health to improve and enhance the palliative and end-of-life care curriculum for students. The Yale School of Medicine has worked with the Schools of Nursing and Divinity, Yale Religious Ministries, and the Palliative Care Services of Yale-New Haven Hospital to develop an interdisciplinary program that will focus on symptom management, culture and spirituality, and the importance of a multi-disciplinary team approach to patient care.

The primary goal of palliative care is to prevent and relieve the burdens imposed by diseases and their treatments.

“The primary goal of palliative care is to prevent and relieve the burdens imposed by diseases and their treatments,” said Matthew S. Ellman, M.D., director of end-of-life care skills education for 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 while nursing and divinity students are being urged to participate as well.

Utilizing today’s technology, the interdisciplinary students will work through interactive cases online, with opportunities to communicate through a blog where they can share their ideas and reflections. The students will then participate in workshops, facilitated by faculty from each school, in which they will work together in a hands-on fashion to appreciate the value of interdisciplinary teamwork in the care of patients. Students will learn to recognize spiritual distress in a patient 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. The students also will be encouraged to recognize 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. The educational program will be featured in the Yale Cancer Center Symposium in December 2008.


Bill Hathaway

Michael Greenwood

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Submitted by Liz Pantani on October 04, 2012