University of Maryland Medical School Creates Palliative Care Division

As hospice and palliative care providers work to prevent staff shortages from reaching crisis levels, institutions like the University of Maryland are expanding educational opportunities for clinicians seeking hospice and palliative care training.

The University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM) has established a new Division of Palliative Medicine to help bolster the palliative care workforce within the university’s own medical facilities as well as in the community at large.

“We will be focused primarily on symptom management and providing a medical treatment plan addressing pain and other physical, psychosocial, and spiritual problems associated with life-threatening illnesses,” said Stephen Davis, the Dr. Theodore E. Woodward Chair and Professor in the UMSOM Department of Medicine. “In addition, we look forward to creating a fellowship and robust research program to strengthen and improve health care delivery.”

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Two physician instructors will serve as faculty, which will also include a clinical care team consisting of a pharmacist, a social worker, nurses, nurse practitioners and a pastoral care expert. The new division is led by Raya Kheirbek, MD, professor of medicine, who is board-certified in internal medicine, geriatric medicine, and hospice and palliative medicine.

The nationwide hospice and palliative care workforce is not growing sufficiently to meet demand as the population ages. Recent studies estimate that the number of hospice and palliative care clinicians will decline during the next 25 years due to retirement as clinicians themselves age, as well as people leaving the field due to burnout. An estimated 62% of hospice and palliative care clinicians indicate that they have experienced burnout at some point in their careers.

Congress has attempted to address the issue through the Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act (H.R. 647), currently being considered by the House of Representatives with widespread bipartisan support. The bill would provide funds to increase the number of permanent faculty in academic institutions that train hospice and palliative care providers, with the ultimate goal of growing the workforce. Other provisions would create a national campaign to promote the benefits of palliative and hospice care among health care providers and the public, and would expand National Institutes of Health research efforts on hospice care.

Earlier this week, another academic institution, the University of Nebraska, announced it would launch a new fellowship to train new palliative care specialist physicians.

“Palliative medicine services are in increasing demand nationwide.” said Albert Reece, M.D., dean of the medical school and the university’s executive vice president for Medical Affairs. “As the nation faces a rising population of terminally ill and older patients with declining health, there is a need to place a greater emphasis on palliative care to ensure a high quality of life for both patients and their families.”

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