New Death and Dying Series for Healthcare Professionals Launches

Death, dying, and grieving are inevitable realities of health care. Although healthcare professionals confront these issues regularly, many still do not feel equipped to communicate with patients and families about these challenging matters comfortably and appropriately. When the Jewish Healthcare Foundation (JHF) offers its annual Death and Dying Fellowship for graduate students, we also receive applications from healthcare professionals in the field who express an interest in participating because they did not have a chance to learn about having difficult conversations with patients and families. JHF is addressing this glaring need for continued education surrounding end-of-life communication by launching its first Death and Dying Series for Healthcare Professionals.

On September 14, a cohort of over 20 professionals in disciplines ranging from medicine, nursing, social work, psychology, and chaplaincy, convened virtually to learn strategies to enhance their end-of-life conversation skills. During this first session, JHF Chief Operating Officer and Chief Program Officer Nancy Zionts, MBA, provided an overview of JHF and its long-standing commitment to a robust aging agenda, which includes end of life and palliative care. JHF Medical Advisor Judy Black, MD, MHA, provided a historical overview of end-of-life issues in the United States and presented on the benefits of advance care planning. She provided a deep dive into the Pennsylvania Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment program, stressing that the POLST conversation is essential and an ongoing process; it is more than simply completing a form.

In session two, Robert Arnold, MS, chief of the Section of Palliative Care and Medical Ethics and director of the Institute for Doctor–Patient Communication at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and chief medical officer of UPMC Palliative and Supportive Institute, presented an interactive talk on how to become more skilled at talking to seriously ill patients. Emily Jaffe, MD, MBA, vice president and executive medical director of Enterprise Palliative Care Strategy and Implementation at Highmark Health, and Rene Claxton, MD, MS, associate professor of medicine and program director, Hospice and Palliative Medicine Fellowship in the University of Pittsburgh Department of Medicine and UPMC Palliative and Supportive Institute, shared their personal experiences with having conversations around serious illness and then joined participants in breakout groups to discuss CPR goals of care conversation strategies and advance care planning conversations from a primary care perspective.

The group will meet for a total of seven sessions and will feature discussions related to cultural issues at the end of life, physician aid in dying, and how to have proper end-of-life conversations guided by numerous experts from a range of care settings. The series will culminate with an opportunity for participants to practice their conversation skills through role-plays facilitated by experts in the fields of palliative and end-of-life care.

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