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Solving the Healthcare Crisis: Holistic Treatment through Palliative Care

Thanks to curricula pioneered by the CSU Institute for Palliative Care, professors at Cal State San Marcos are integrating palliative care instruction into their curriculum to provide future health care professionals with a more holistic approach in treating patients with chronic conditions.

Professors who work closely with the Institute say integrating curriculum from different disciplines—also known as interprofessional education—is common sense. Suzanne Moineau, a speech-language pathologist and chair of the Department of Speech-Language Pathology at CSUSM, is among them.

“Quality of life is a central element of what we’re teaching in speech-language pathology, and palliative care is all about improving quality of life in individuals with chronic illness and their families,” said Moineau. “Most health care professionals at one point or another work with people with chronic conditions, so palliative care is critical.”

Moineau has been supportive of the California State University Institute for Palliative Care since it was established at Cal State San Marcos three years ago, and she served on a planning and implementation committee that took the early lead in planning for activities specific to the CSUSM campus. The Institute is a statewide initiative to educate current and future health care professionals, as well as community members, to ensure that patients who are living with serious or chronic illness and their families have access to palliative care. The California State University Institute for Palliative Care now includes centers at seven CSU campuses.

Palliative care has been shown to extend the life of a patient, improve his or her quality of life and reduce stress on caregivers and families, and Moineau was among the faculty members from four different departments of the College of Education, Health and Human Services at CSUSM who collaborated last year with consultants from the California State University Institute for Palliative Care to pilot, the Palliative Care Interprofessional Experience for Students, an interprofessional education program with a palliative care focus. Using the framework developed by the Institute, over several months, faculty from the School of Nursing and the Departments of Kinesiology, Social Work and Speech Language Pathology developed two palliative case studies based on actual patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and traumatic brain injury.

“At the Institute we rely on faculty to work with us to integrate palliative care interdisciplinary practice into student learning” said Helen McNeal, executive director of the CSU Institute for Palliative Care. “We are grateful to the faculty and students at CSUSM for being the pioneers on this project and for being such dedicated supporters of our work, right from day one.”

Sixteen students then participated in interprofessional team activities, including a problem-based learning component and simulated patient/family interviews. CSUSM faculty and Institute consultants will discuss the project in detail during the Second Annual CSU Palliative Care Symposium scheduled for Oct. 6 and 7 in San Marcos.

Molly Abbott, who graduated from CSUSM last spring, took part in the interprofessional education project. Now she’s a speech pathologist at Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla.

“My understanding of palliative care prior to the IPE project was limited,” Abbott said. “I thought palliative care was confined to hospice or end-of-life care. Taking part in the project showed me that palliative care goes far beyond that and is really about improving the quality of life for any patient with any chronic condition. It’s all about comfort care.”

An example of how palliative care works can be found at the CSUSM Speech-Language Clinic where graduate students—under the guidance and supervision of state-licensed and nationally certified speech-language pathologists—are incorporating palliative care in serving people with neurological impairments to improve speech, language and cognitive skills.

Wrote one client in the clinic’s newsletter, The Wave:

“Now, in my third semester of being a client at CSUSM, I am living much more independently than before. I can now cook a meal for myself (healthier and less expensive than always eating out!), and through being aware of how I handle my divided attention, I can accomplish more things. Therefore, I can keep up with the speed of life.”

Forward Together: The Critical Need for Palliative Care

The need for palliative care is reaching critical proportions. By 2030, 1 in 5 Americans will be over the age of 65, and 90 percent of Americans will have at least one serious or chronic condition. Now, Cal State San Marcos is raising funds through its historic campaign to support the Institute in addressing the critical shortage of nursing, social work, spiritual and other professionals with palliative care skills and training—and to refine the model being developed locally for replication at other interested universities across California.

Sharon Hammill, a CSUSM professor of psychology who serves as faculty director for the CSUS Institute for Palliative Care at Cal State San Marcos emphasizes the case for support.

“We need to focus on educating both the current and future health care workforce so that everyone who needs palliative care will be able to get it,” she said. “By integrating palliative care into the curriculum for health care professionals, in addition to broad-based integration across the curriculum in other disciplines, we are training future doctors, nurses and social workers in palliative care practices, as well as educating consumers of health care services.”

To learn more about Forward Together: The Campaign for California State University San Marcos and how you can help solve critical issues through the CSU Institute for Palliative Care or other initiatives, visit: