The National Cancer Institute has granted City of Hope’s Department of Nursing Research and Education $1.5 million to educate social workers, psychologists and chaplains nationwide about palliative care for cancer patients.
Shirley Otis-Green, M.S.W., L.C.S.W., senior research specialist in the Department of Nursing Research and Education, is principal investigator on the ACE Project — Advocating for Clinical Excellence: Transdisciplinary Palliative Care Education. The five-year project — the latest in the department’s series of seminal, national-level education programs — aims to fundamentally advance the quality of end-of-life care in the United States.
The program is City of Hope’s first to focus on psychologists, social workers and spiritual care providers: key members of hospital teams that provide palliative care to patients and families. Members of these disciplines will apply competitively to participate in an annual course organized by the City of Hope researchers, and then take their experiences back home to improve care where they live and work.
“We want this course to increase the attendees’ commitment to advocacy,” Otis-Green said. “We want participants to become the conscience of their institutions.”
Too often, Otis-Green explained, palliation simply conjures up images of hospice settings or pain medications. But it represents far more.
Palliative care uses both medical therapies and compassion, and it aims to comfort and support patients and their families in many ways, she said. Certainly, health professionals try to relieve patients’ pain, but they also need to manage patients’ other symptoms, including psychological and spiritual distress. At the same time, health-care professionals must juggle and address the sometimes-conflicting concerns of family members, social perceptions about illness and medication addiction, cultural traditions and deeply held spiritual beliefs.
At its core, palliative care strives to uphold quality of life.
“Good palliative care is good medical care,” Otis-Green said. “Palliative care is high-quality care for the whole person.”
Otis-Green and her colleagues will accept 75 participants each year for four years and bring them together for an annual course providing more than 20 hours of seminars and interactive learning. In the fifth year, the 300 participants will reunite at a national conference and share the lessons they learned. Organizers and participants will publish their findings, as well.
Why provide education for psychologists, social workers and spiritual care providers? As Otis-Green explained, all members of a palliative-care team need a broad base of shared knowledge. “A social worker, for example, needs to have some expertise about certain spiritual concerns,” she said. “The social worker also needs to understand the physical source of patients’ pain. All members of the team need to know what a patient is likely to go through so that they can prepare patients and families for their experiences, answer questions and better advocate for them.”
The initiative is funded through the National Cancer Institute’s research education (R25) grant program, the same source that backs City of Hope’s ongoing education project to improve the quality of life of cancer survivors: Survivorship Education for Quality Cancer Care, led by Marcia Grant, R.N., D.N.Sc., director of the Department of Nursing Education and Research.