News and Commentary Macy Faculty Scholar Lisa Kitko on Advancing Palliative Care

Lisa Kitko, PhD, RN, FAHA of Penn State College of Nursing, discusses her new palliative care post-graduate certificate program for community-based clinicians.

What are you working on as a Macy Faculty Scholar and why is it needed?

For my project, I am developing a palliative care post-graduate certificate program for community-based clinicians—including those from medicine, nursing, pharmacy, chaplaincy, and other disciplines. With coursework delivered online, the program will include an intensive face-to-face practicum that brings together the diverse group of enrolled practitioners for an interprofessional training.

After years of clinical experience caring for patients with heart failure, I firmly believe that interprofessional care is essential to palliative care. When providers are looking at complex patients dealing with chronic or terminal diseases, you certainly can’t expect one person to have all the expertise. You need a holistic approach to manage not just the physical symptoms of these patients, but their psychosocial and spiritual needs as well. Palliative care by definition is interprofessional but the education regarding palliative care is not.

Can you explain more about how you are formalizing your curriculum and implementing it?
The certificate program has three courses that are each three semester credits in length. They are:

  • Primary palliative care: An interdisciplinary approach
  • Primary palliative care: Interdisciplinary management of advanced serious illness
  • Interdisciplinary practicum of the primary palliative care role

I designed these courses to be delivered sequentially over three semesters, and I’m grateful for the interprofessional faculty at Penn State that worked collaboratively with me to complete the content and learner assessments contained in the first two didactic courses. The final interdisciplinary practicum will be completed in various settings either in-person or virtually through context-specific simulation.

The first course will be offered in the fall 2016 semester and students are currently registering for it. We’re also developing two pilot programs to go along with these courses. For the first pilot, learners from medicine, nursing and chaplaincy are going to participate in interdisciplinary practicum experiences with online reflection, team based projects, and case studies. The second pilot will include learners from medicine and nursing using visual thinking strategies. The experience will take place in a museum and be video recorded for use online, and a focus group of participants will occur after each pilot for feedback.

Over the next year, our team will continue to develop the practicum and focus on learner engagement, interdisciplinary collaboration, and exploring best practices for recruiting learners outside of the University system as well as continued collaborations within the University to ensure the sustainability of the program. In addition, the team will implement reliable and valid methods for measuring outcomes in the didactic courses and assessing competencies for the online simulation experiences.

What are your ultimate goals for your project?

The ultimate goal of my project is to expand the pool of providers who have knowledge in basic palliative care, and to improve the quality of care for seriously ill patients in our country. Palliative care is an area of medicine that needs to move beyond hospital walls to community settings where services can be provided earlier and delivered through interprofessional collaborative practice, regardless of setting. I hope that as more practitioners are trained in basic palliative care, this will become an option for a greater number of patients and their families.

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