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UMass Medical School planning for palliative care fellowship

UMass Cancer Walk and Run will support development of training program

UMass Medical School Communications

August 29, 2018

Helping patients deal with the physical and emotional toll of fighting cancer or other serious illnesses is the work of palliative care. It can be an underutilized and sometimes misunderstood specialty, but it offers important benefits for patients and their families. 

To help raise the profile of, and access to, palliative care, $75,000 from the proceeds of this year’s UMass Cancer Walk and Run will be used to begin development of a nationally accredited, interdisciplinary fellowship program in palliative care at UMass Medical School.

“We have a national and local shortage of palliative care clinicians. A fellowship will help to educate the next generation of palliative care specialists and give us more hands on-deck to care for more people who would benefit from palliative care,” said Jennifer Reidy, MD, associate professor of family medicine & community health at UMMS and chief of palliative care at UMass Memorial Medical Center. “Funding from the cancer walk this year will be important seed money for us to begin planning the fellowship. We are very grateful.”

The 20th Anniversary UMass Cancer Walk and Run is set for Sunday, Sept. 30, at the UMass Medical School /UMass Memorial Medical Center campus on Lake Avenue in Worcester. Proceeds from the event will support adult and pediatric cancer research and care, and clinical trials of new potentially lifesaving cancer therapies.

“Palliative care gives people an extra layer of support when they're facing a cancer diagnosis,” Dr. Reidy said. “We help people feel better when they're living with cancer, so that can mean treating pain, nausea, shortness of breath, sleep problems, anxiety and depression, at any stage of the illness. We do that with our team of doctors, nurse practitioners, a pharmacist and social workers who help patients and families access services in the community. We help people feel better through both medication and non-medication strategies.”

Reidy said that studies have shown that cancer patients who have palliative care tolerate their treatments better and live longer than similar patients who don’t have palliative care. “Even some of our sickest patients, such as people with metastatic lung cancer, can live longer with the combination of palliative care and excellent cancer care,” she said.

Learning how palliative care fits into their disease treatment plan and differs from hospice care is essential for patients, Reidy said. “One of the issues we see is that palliative care and hospice are equated as the same when they are not,” she said. “Sometimes people have a negative impression of palliative care: they feel it means that they're dying or that they're getting worse. In fact, palliative care is all about quality of life. Hospice care is a different, specialized, form of care for people at the very end of life.”

At UMMS, palliative care is part of the curriculum for oncology fellows training in cancer treatment. Reidy’s team also develops palliative care training programs for physicians in a range of other specialties. The new fellowship would serve clinicians who want to make palliative care their fulltime pursuit.

“Ideally, a fellowship program here would be interdisciplinary, training both physicians and nurse practitioners. We have wonderful colleagues at the Graduate School of

Nursing who are champions of palliative care,” Reidy said. “There are only two fellowships programs in the country that include physicians and nurse practitioners, so I hope we can do the same here.”

For more information about the UMass Cancer Walk and Run see: https://umassmed.edu/cancerwalk/

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