Why weave a palliative approach through core curriculum?

Why weave a palliative approach through core curriculum?

Why weave a palliative approach through core curriculum?

We know that all healthcare providers need to meet the basic competencies for integrating a palliative approach into care. Developing some of those competencies is required by PSWs and Nurses in their core curriculum. But, we hear that students are anxious about providing palliative care and learning to care for the body after death. We hear instructors are also anxious – to teach the content about dying, palliative care, last days and hours, time of death and following death. Instructors often report that they don’t have enough time to teach the content, or enough resources to teach the content.

Instructors were saying

There are no resources for PSWs

We have no time to prepare materials

There is no time in the curriculum to teach palliative care

We lack the knowledge to teach palliative care

These are some of the reasons that Life and Death Matters began developing resources to meet the learning needs of personal support workers and the teaching needs of their educators. We committed to creating resources that were engaging for students and supportive for educators as they worked to help students meet competencies in the time available.

Many educators rely on the Instructor’s Guide when teaching the unit on integrating a palliative approach. For each topic in the textbook, the Instructor’s Guide identifies a Lesson Plan that includes the teaching presentation, and the complementary content in the workbook, podcasts, and videos.

It is possible to weave palliative care content throughout the core curriculum instead of teaching palliative as a separate unit. Note that weaving palliative care content through the core curriculum would not eliminate the unit on palliative care. Instead, the palliative care unit would be smaller as some of the content would have been taught throughout the program.

Which brings us to ask why? The following section summarizes our thoughts on the benefits of teaching palliative care through the core curriculum.

When students are taught how to integrate a palliative approach throughout core curriculum, the content can be “chunked down” into smaller and more easily digestible pieces. These smaller pieces would also be introduced in relation to other content that is not necessarily as anxiety-provoking for students. With smaller chunks of content and less anxiety, the palliative care content may become less intimidating for students and may be better received by anxious students. Students would also learn that integrating a palliative approach is not just for care in the last weeks and days of life, but that it is care that is woven throughout all the care that they provide.

When palliative care is woven through the curriculum, students can develop a more holistic and less divisive understanding of health care. For example, teaching about changing needs for nutrition across the lifespan could include a section about anorexia. This would provide the option to discuss anorexia and cachexia experienced by a person who is declining and dying of cancer or a life-limiting illness.  

Teaching about palliative care throughout the core curriculum could help to normalize the care of people with life-limiting illnesses as part of the spectrum of caregiving. For example, when teaching about changes people undergo through life, you could include e.g., birth, childhood, youth, young adult, …. aging … and dying. Under the category of dying, the four common patterns of dying could be described.

Finally, one of the best reasons for weaving the palliative care content through the curriculum is to help students start reflecting on their beliefs and values early in the program. A reflective practice is important to building self-awareness – an essential characteristic for all health care providers, including PSWs. With greater self-awareness, PSWs may be more able to consciously put aside their beliefs and values, and be present and open to meeting the needs of the person they are caring for.

Those are the four reasons that we feel students benefit when the palliative care content is woven through core curriculum.

It’s your turn.

Share your thoughts in the comments section.

What is your opinion on the concept of weaving palliative care content through core curriculum?

2 Responses

  1. Lots to unpack here, Kath, thank you! I am always leery of curriculum “threads” vs. having a stand alone course. Curriculum threads can easily get lost, depending on the professors values, beliefs and knowledge. They may replace the content with something that they see as more important or that they feel more comfortable teaching. That said, there is so much in a palliative approach to care that is relevant for all aspects of PSW practice, that I do think that holding on to the stand-alone course, and then integrating content that is typically associated with palliative care in other courses (including lab and clinical courses) makes sense. Always a challenge with jam-packed curricula!

  2. Appreciate your blog on this important topic Kath. I agree with the BOTH / AND approach: Integration of dimensions of a palliative approach throughout curriculum as well as a stand alone course. However, leaving it only to a palliative care stand alone course that may or may not be a required part of health care curriculum is inadequate. Equipping health care providers with fundamental understanding of care for those experiencing a life limiting illness trajectory and their family is foundational in health care today.

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Courtney Murrell is a PSW who works in hospice palliative care.

When she is not at work, she is spending time with her family, going on hikes or writing. Courtney is a lifelong learner and loves to share her passion for writing as a wellness practice.

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