Interprofessional palliative care curriculum: yes or no?

The WHO Regional Office in Europe and Paracelsus Medical University in Salzburg have agreed to strengthen education and training in palliative care throughout the region. During the first term as WHO Collaborating Centre (2016-2020), semi-structured field interviews with national leaders in palliative care in Central Asia, Eastern Europe and South Eastern Europe were conducted between April and September 2018 to explore the structures of postgraduate palliative care education at country level and the need for further development.

As one of our reference objectives agreed with WHO, we wanted to find out whether the introduction of a European interprofessional palliative care curriculum would be useful and culturally acceptable in the different countries of the Region of Middle, Eastern and South-Eastern Europe and Central and West Asia. The findings of our study aim to support countries wishing to develop postgraduate education to strengthen the healthcare workforce across Europe and thereby accelerate progress in implementing the WHO strategic directions to support the implementation of sustainable improvements in the quality of palliative care.

To strengthen palliative care education across the region, ethnographic field research was conducted in Eastern Europe in 2018: Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, South Eastern Europe: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Greece, Moldova, Romania, (Turkey), Hungary and Cyprus. Central Europe: Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland; Central Asia: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, West Asia (Middle East): Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia. A total of 32 semi-structured interviews were conducted with one or more participants from 23 countries. None of the participants who committed dropped out of this study.

National leaders in palliative care were asked to describe developments in postgraduate education in their region. They were asked whether the introduction of a European curriculum would be useful and culturally acceptable in their country. The aim was to examine the structures of postgraduate education at country level in order to define the obstacles and opportunities.

The analysis revealed four main themes: (1) general barriers to access, (2) actions needed to improve palliative care education, (3) core curriculum palliative care - the theoretical framework, and (4) implementation challenges.

The results show that a European curriculum recommendation is useful in theory to convince governments and other key stakeholders of the importance of postgraduate education. In practise, such a curriculum needs to be adapted to the constraints of health services and human resources. Validated quality assessment criteria for palliative care education are crucial to advance postgraduate education.

The findings, with extensive supplementary material, were recently published in Palliative and Supportive Care. This article complements an earlier paper which you can read here.