Leaders in palliative care from around the world meet in Kerala to connect and learn together

Categories: Education and Leadership.

The 14th – 18th November 2022 witnessed the start of a series of masterclasses set high in the mountains in a remote part of Kerala, India, at a misty and magical retreat centre.  Over 60 individuals from 25 countries had travelled near and far, many against the odds, to come together for five days to advance their knowledge and skills – with a particular focus on improving experiences of death, dying and grief in low-, middle- and high-income countries.

The participants had already studied together in a number of programmes but only virtually due to the recent pandemic. The masterclass, created by St Christopher’s Hospice in the UK and The Institute of Palliative Medicine (IPM) in Kerala, India, generously supported by the Nightingale Fellowship, enabled a broad group of like-minded individuals to come together in person to learn more as a community, as leaders and individuals.

Many of the participants were pioneering nurses. These nurses are individuals deemed to enjoy personal/professional characteristics similar to those embodied by Cicely Saunders and Florence Nightingale.

A community of 30 nurses who are pioneers in their countries have been identified and supported by St Christopher’s over the course of the last two years. Many have gone on to have national and global impact and to support each other in their efforts. It was a pleasure to welcome many of them to this masterclass and work with them as a discrete group, alongside other leaders working in similar parts of the world.

Others attending include doctors, volunteer leads, managers and non-clinical leaders with a professional stake in palliative care who have been learning together as part of a regular Fellowship programme that lasts six months and runs annually.

Four cohorts of Fellowship alumni are present on this programme of learning. A high proportion of the participants are involved in palliative care alongside other busy roles in hospitals and the community; a large proportion also have young families and other caring responsibilities.

Their commitment to learning via the Fellowship is notable. Even in the course of the pandemic when they were working seven days a week on busy wards focused on the care of people with COVID-19, 260 individuals managed to graduate from this course in 2021 and 2022 alone!

The programme for the week of masterclasses was busy but exciting. It focused on being prepared to lead and attends to the recommendations of a new global report focused on the value of death.

Each day, the group as a whole tackled a major strategic issue, then worked at regional level on an action plan before moving in the afternoon to profession-specific workshops.

The days ran from 7.30am to 6.30pm, the faculty leading the teaching drawn from India, the UK and Australia.

For one day out of the five we were together, the majority of participants went out to see innovative and transformational care and support led by community groups who participated in an integrated public health model of care renowned around the world.

The style of learning adopted for the masterclasses is highly interactive. The participants were encouraged to share their knowledge and their experience and to support each other – which they did in a whole variety of ways. Messages, articles, learning tools and more were exchanged through social media, an on-line learning system, conversations and more.

People have become friends and many brought presents, photographs and even children to introduce them to this community. it was moving to witness the enduring and compassionate nature of these relationships.

Can the costs (financial, on the climate, of time) of such a programme be justified I hear you ask?

Without doubt I reply, particularly if you listen to the comments of those who attended.

People have talked about the vital injection of energy, encouragement, new insights and skills afforded by attending this event. This was evidenced in their commitment to a demanding programme, the never-ending chat at meals and break times, their interest in the success of fellow participants and the sharing of moments of sadness and disappointment alongside success.

Outputs already in evidence include new thinking about death systems at national and regional levels, new strategies for organisations, national plans for professional development, new peer networks and renewed intention on the part of individuals to continue to remain involved in changing care and society to the benefit of those who are often so disadvantaged, particularly at the end of life.

Early reflections on the part of participants confirm that the masterclasses have been “life changing”, “sustaining” and “transformative”.

We are confident that this is just the start and St Christopher’s, the IPM and others will be working with individuals and groups to support new ambitions and plans.

My own reflections focus on the privilege and opportunity afforded me to have worked with the faculty and participants in the course of such a rich week. We have so much to learn in the UK and at St Christopher’s from people who are ahead of the game as they cope with very finite resources, overstretched services, personal uncertainty and fear about the future as do we.

I return to the UK enriched and excited about new opportunities – including those focused on reframing the context for change around death, dying and grief, developing a workforce fit for the future to meet the needs of people who live into late old age and creating new networks that support global transformation.

Heather Richardson

Suresh Kumar

Libby Sallnow


Please go to https://www.stchristophers.org.uk/training-and-research/fellowship-in-palliative-care/ for applications to the upcoming training programme

For an article about the Leadership Award received from the EAPC – https://eapcnet.wordpress.com/2021/11/12/winner-of-the-third-leadership-award-2021-fellowship-in-palliative-care/

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