What is Palliative Care? 

Palliative care is an approach to health care and a field of research. It is centered around the care of patients with serious illness across multiple dimensions, by an interdisciplinary team of skilled practitioners.  While hospice is a specific form of palliative care that focuses on the end of life, palliative care has been demonstrated to be effective at any stage of living with serious illness.  

Why integrate Palliative Care and undergraduate curriculum? 

Palliative care’s principles have broad applicability for all humans and a wide range of academic disciplines: 

  • Dying is a normal part of the human life cycle 
  • Unnecessary pain and suffering prevent humans from living life to its full potential 
  • Illness affects not only the patient but family and other caregivers 
  • Effects of illness may not be only physical but psychosocial and spiritual 
  • Society in general and the health system in particular must provide support for those suffering from illness 

Such principles may lead to teaching and learning rooted in questions such as 

  • How can individuals plan for and address their mortality? 
  • How do different cultures perceive and value illness, pain, suffering, or their treatment? 
  • How does a society prioritize resources for health, illness, aging or death? 
  • What demographic factors shape the demand for and supply of palliative care? 
  • How do humans create meaning in death or bereavement? 

Are undergraduates too young to think about serious illness and palliative care? 

The notion of serious or life-threatening illness often is associated with late stages in life, and palliative care may at first glance appear distant from the lives of young adults. But particularly as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic and look more closely at how trauma and suffering affect individuals throughout their lives, exposure to palliative care principles can address issues that are already on students’ minds. Introducing principles of palliative care to undergraduates can shape a generation’s thinking at a formative stage as a prelude to multiple professions and identities: 

  • As future consumers of health care, creating awareness of the availability of palliative care and the right to supports and services to address suffering in serious illness 
  • As advocates for family members, to plan future health wishes 
  • As future clinicians, public health specialists and researchers, to guide conceptualization of healthcare practice 
  • As future politicians, policymakers, and administrators, to set policy that values relief of suffering 
  • As humans and citizens, to acknowledge death with less fear 

Where can I learn more about palliative care? 

The Center to Advance Palliative Care has extensive resources for the public and health care providers.  

I’m not an undergraduate. Where can I learn more about palliative care in my community? 

Many communities are starting informal conversations about death, dying, and mortality. Death Over Dinner and Death Café might have events near you. The Conversation Project and Dying Matters (UK) have tips for getting started talking with family and friends about your own wishes or theirs. For comprehensive palliative care information, visit the Center to Advance Palliative Care.