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30 Jun 2019

Palliative Care as Career Option

Ranjan K Baruah
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One may not imagine the pain which is undergone by patient or families of patient suffering from cancer. Though there are many cancer survivors, there are many who died due to cancer. A person not only becomes ill from health perspectives but s/he faces many other issues. Any one visiting cancer hospital or meeting the families of cancer patient would understand the challenges and pains faced by them. Seeing many patients and their condition, I have been always wondering what best our young people may do to extend their support. I am discussing about a field where we need to work on and there are opportunities for students and young people to get involve and make some differences. We are discussing about palliative care and how one may be associated with this sector and help many people and families who needs care and support.

Palliative care is an interdisciplinary approach to specialized medical and nursing care for people with life-limiting illnesses. It focuses on providing relief from the symptoms, pain, physical stress, and mental stress at any stage of illness. The goal is to improve quality of life for both the person and their family. It is provided by a team of physicians, nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists and other health professionals who work together with the primary care physician and referred specialists and other hospital to provide additional support. It is appropriate at any age and at any stage in a serious illness and can be provided as the main goal of care or along with curative treatment. Although it is an important part of end-of-life care, it is not limited to that stage. It can be provided across multiple settings including in hospitals, at home, as part of community palliative care programs, and in skilled nursing facilities. Interdisciplinary palliative care teams work with people and their families to clarify goals of care and provide symptom management, psycho-social, and spiritual support.

Palliative care is a term derived from Latin palliare, "to cloak." It refers to specialised medical care for people with serious illnesses.  A World Health Organization statement describes palliative care as "an approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing the problems associated with life-threatening illness, through the prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification and impeccable assessment and treatment of pain and other problems, physical, psychosocial and spiritual." 

Apart from being doctor who are expert on treating the diseases some other options includes nursing support, outpatient palliative care social worker, clinical social worker, psychologists, etc. We have seen how cancer patient faces emotional and psychological problem, so we need health care professional who can also deal with issues apart from activities of physicians. Students from social work or psychology may choose to be in this profession. It is not necessary to be academically sound for those who are passionate to work with the people who need care and support. Providing authentic information is important and more over we also need people who can extend support in logistics for patient who travels to different hospitals for health support. Poor people coming to cities from rural areas or travelling to other metros for health care needs many support including logistics. Young people may come into this profession as there is demand in this field. 

There are several renowned institutes which are now offering specialised courses for those interested in carving out a career in this sector. The Indian Association of Palliative Care conducts courses (Certified & Fellowship) for doctors, nurses and volunteers in several institutes across India. There are many societies working in this field where one may get involved as professionals or as volunteers. We shall write more about this topic in our next issue.
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