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A Profession with a Bright Future

The field of palliative care, providing comprehensive care to the elderly and critically ill, is becoming more and more important. The University of Freiburg offers a new online master program in the field—an excellent opportunity for those already active in stationary and ambulant care to gain additional qualifications.


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The elderly and inform need help - but so do those helping them. (Foto: © Pinnwand / photocase)

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The field of palliative care, providing comprehensive care to the elderly and critically ill, is becoming more and more important. The University of Freiburg offers a new online master program in the field—an excellent opportunity for those already active in stationary and ambulant care to gain additional qualifications.

The need for palliative medical care is growing: We live in an aging society, and patients with severe illnesses are also living longer thanks to constant improvements in medicine. “By the year 2020 we will need approximately 1500 additional managerial personnel in the area of ambulant and stationary care structures,” asserts the physician and theologian Dr Gerhild Becker, head of the Master Program in Palliative Care at the University of Freiburg.

Goals and Content of the Program

As Becker explains, modern palliative medicine can help to greatly reduce unpleasant symptoms in patients, such as severe pain, shortness of breath, and nausea—even in those who have no hope of a complete cure for their illness. Providing sound palliative medical care involves expert knowledge and careful reflection. The Online Master Program in Palliative Care thus emphasizes specialized knowledge as well as decision-making, reflection, and communication skills. The curriculum includes symptoms and symptom control; scientific research methods; psychosocial, communicative, and spiritual competence; legal and social aspects of medical care; and organization and management.

Formalities of the Program

The Online Master Program in Palliative Care is located at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Freiburg and is designed to accommodate students working a full-time job. It takes two years to complete and leads to the Master of Science in Palliative Care. Postgraduates from various medical and psychosocial fields are eligible for participation. The entire program is organized according to the concept of blended learning: Self-learning phases supported by regular online meetings alternate with on-campus compact courses on extended weekends (2–3 times per semester). The program begins each year in the winter semester. Applications for the coming winter semester are accepted until 15 August. Further information is available at www.palliativecare.uni-freiburg.de.

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Priv.-Doz. Dr. med. Dipl.-Theol. Dipl.-Caritaswiss. Gerhild Becker

Gerhild Becker is a specialist in internal medicine, Protestant theology, and Christian welfare studies. She earned a master of science in palliative care in a two-year master program at St. Christopher’s Hospice and King’s College at the University of London. As senior physician, she supervises a palliative station and palliative medicine consultation service for all departments offering stationary care at the Freiburg University Medical Center. She also heads an interdisciplinary palliative care research group focusing on evidence-based therapy in palliative medicine (systematic reviews, guidelines), clinical studies on pain therapy and symptom control in palliative medicine, medical care research, qualitative research, spirituality, and medical ethics. Dr. Becker serves as academic director of the Online Master Program in Palliative Care established at the University of Freiburg in 2010.

 

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“We Can Do a Lot to Improve Their Quality of Life.”

Care for the terminally ill and their families—but also for the health care professionals themselves: Gerhild Becker explains the foundations of the new course of study in palliative care and shows that even an online master program can offer practical training.

Surprising Science: One of the basic principles of palliative medicine is maintaining close contact with the patient. How can this practical principle be taught in an online master program?

Becker: In planning the methodology and curriculum of the courses, we take care to refer as often as possible to situations our students are confronted with in their professional lives. The practical nature of the program is strong from the outset, because all of the students are already engaged in palliative care and can make use of what they learn immediately in their daily work. Moreover, during the on-campus phases of the program we train concrete communication situations and provide individual feedback, for instance with the help of imaginary patients played by actors. And we give the students the chance to implement concrete projects of their own on a topic relevant for their area of work and with the support of a qualified mentor.

Surprising Science: What are the ethical foundations of palliative care?

Becker: Even though there are some illnesses we cannot cure, we can do a lot to improve and maintain the quality of life of those afflicted with them. The technological possibilities of modern medicine do not automatically come with the criteria for applying them properly. The best therapy is not the maximum therapy, but an adequate one. In caring for the terminally ill it is particularly important to distinguish between what is technologically possible and what is right for the individual patient.

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A goal of the program is to promote work in multi-professional teams(© Aerzte-Konferenz_Freikon_54266-52018-original)

Surprising Science: What do you want to teach in the program besides medical skills?

Becker: The program focuses on holistic care for people with terminal illnesses and their families. We can’t cure the illnesses, but we can provide the afflicted with a “pallium,” Latin for a protective cloak. Patients and their families often need psychological support in order to cope with a terminal illness. A special characteristic of palliative medicine is cooperation between different professions—doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, psychologists, social workers, pastors, and pharmacists—with the goal of enabling the patients and their families to enjoy the highest possible quality of life until the end of their lives. In addition to the alleviation of physical pain, this involves providing social, psychological, and spiritual support in accordance with individual needs and wishes. The better all of the involved professionals cooperate over the boundaries of their individual disciplines, the better the care they can provide. Another goal of the program is thus to train students to work in multi-professional teams. However, it is not just the patients and their families who are under a great burden, but also the health care professionals themselves. Death and dying are topics which are particularly difficult for doctors, because their main job is of course to heal. At times they might perceive the loss of a patient as a personal failure. It is thus necessary for them to develop skills and strategies for coping with various stress factors. This is all part of the curriculum.

 

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E-Learning for the Students of Palliative Care

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Tasks on all disciplines are put online at regular intervals. (Foto: University of Freiburg)   E-lectures on the various thematic modules are available online. (Foto: University of Freiburg)

 

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