Barbara Head, Ph.D., and Mark Pfeifer, M.D.
Barbara Head, Ph.D., and Mark Pfeifer, M.D.

Faculty members at the University of Louisville School of Medicine have begun developing a national training program to instruct educators at universities across the United States in teaching interprofessional palliative care to those who care for cancer patients. A team of interdisciplinary faculty members will incorporate expertise gained in the development of an interprofessional education program for UofL health professional students in oncology palliative care.

The National Cancer Institute recommends that patients diagnosed with cancer receive palliative care from the time they receive the diagnosis to improve the quality of life for both the patient and the family through relief from the symptoms and stress of a serious illness. It requires patient-centered care from physicians, nurses, social workers and others to meet the complex needs of cancer patients. However, many institutions instruct health professional students in palliative care within each discipline, known as silos, rather than as an interprofessional team.

Funded by a $1.4 million award over five years from the National Cancer Institute, the UofL training curriculum will build on a successful interprofessional program in education for palliative care in cancer already in place at UofL. The Interdisciplinary Curriculum in Oncology Palliative Care Education (iCOPE) was developed at UofL beginning in 2010 with support from a grant from the NCI. More than 1,500 students in social work, medicine, nursing and chaplaincy at UofL have completed the training, which remains a required curricular component.

“This is a first-of-its-kind program and we are fortunate to have an experienced team here as well as the continued support of the National Cancer Institute,” said Mark Pfeifer, MD, the V.V. Cooke Chair and professor in the UofL Department of Medicine. “People diagnosed with cancer are best served by teams of professionals working together to provide patient-centered care.”

Through webinars, online training modules, a workshop, and mentoring through video conferences and one-on-one contact, the UofL faculty will instruct 160 health educators 

Interprofessional education
Interprofessional education

from 35 to 50 other institutions throughout a period of 10 months in developing curricula to teach oncology palliative care and teamwork to students across health disciplines. The program will include four-months of work at the home institution and a 2 ½-day face-to-face workshop, followed by six months of mentoring. Recruitment for learners in the program is expected to begin in early fall.

Faculty trained in this program will be able to overcome the effects of training in silos – within each discipline – and reinforce their students’ interprofessional skills by helping them understand the strengths, capabilities, skills, roles and cultures of the other professionals and instruct them in communication and collaboration among the team members.

“The new project includes evaluation of the home institution’s strengths and weaknesses to take on interprofessional education in oncology and faculty development, which will enable them to overcome barriers and successfully implement programs designed for their institutions,” said Barbara Head, PhD, associate professor in the UofL Department of Medicine.

UofL’s experienced interdisciplinary faculty, under the leadership of Pfeifer and Head, will serve as the core instructional team, guided by a committee of national experts and internal advisors. The iCOPE curriculum will be available to the trainees for use or modification as one approach to developing their own programs.

At the completion of the project, participating educators and others will be invited to a national summit on interdisciplinary palliative oncology education where they will share their experiences and present their own initiatives.