Women of Substance in Palliative Medicine

Categories: Leadership and People & Places.

About the Author: Dr Vidya Viswanath is an Assistant Professor, Department of Palliative Medicine, Homi Bhabha Cancer Hospital & Research Centre, Visakhapatnam. She is also an Honorary Tutor at the School of Medicine, Cardiff University (UK). Dr Vidya is a Faculty with the IAPC, Pallium India, and the Cancer Treatment Centres (CTC) Training, Asia Pacific Hospice Palliative Care Network (APHN), Lien Foundation and AIIMS Delhi.

Besides this, Dr Vidya is a palliative care champion who is actively working alongside the Government of Andhra Pradesh for the integration of palliative care in the State’s public health system.


International days and weeks are occasions to educate the public on issues of concern, mobilize resources and political will to address global problems, and celebrate and reinforce the achievements of humanity. ‘International Day of Women and Girls in Science’ began as a resolution by the United Nations in 2015 with the mission to address the gender gap in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths – STEM fields by celebrating the contributions and achievements of women in science. Globally, the 11th of February is commemorated as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science.

Over the last decade, the field of palliative care has visibly grown in terms of service provision, evidence-based practice, education, training and research in India. The scope of care provision has also expanded with growing interest and integration within non-cancer specialities like Neurology, Nephrology, Pulmonology, Cardiology and Critical Care.

Around us, in all parts of our country, we are witnessing a refreshing change with women in palliative care taking over the reins and spearheading palliative care departments in institutions, hospices and community palliative care programs successfully. Some of them, including Dr Sushma Bhatnagar, our President of the Indian Association of Palliative Care (IAPC) has forged ahead and now holds directorial positions at their cancer institutes! This truly is a leap for Palliative Medicine.

Along with the growth in the services, there have also been major strides in training and Quality Improvement in Oncology and Palliative Care. The first MD training program in Palliative Medicine at Tata Memorial Centre was led by Dr Mary Ann Muckaden and has paved the path for post-graduate education in our country over the last decade.

The Cancer Treatment Center training, the IAPC’s Certificate Course in Essentials of Palliative Care (CCEPC) training, the National Fellowship in Palliative Medicine (NFPM) and the Foundation courses in various aspects of palliative care training – to name a few – have been possible because of the contribution of the various women pioneers in palliative care. What started as a Quality Improvement project with the Stanford University is now a structured program nationally and mentored predominantly by women leaders in palliative care!

A major credit for the dynamic leadership and efficient administration of the IAPC is to the women professionals at the helm who persevere relentlessly. Besides engaging with the fraternity and their colleagues, it is their untiring, active engagement with the Government which has changed the face of palliative care education and training in India.

At the country’s apex court, it was quite literally, “Dhvani”, who legally represented the collective voices of the palliative and critical care community leading to easing the process of the Advance Medical Directive, a huge step in the good end-of-life care provision.

We have stellar women leading from the front, travelling, training and winning accolades in the field of palliative care nursing. We must acknowledge the contribution of the professional caregivers in the multi-disciplinary teams; the medical social workers, the psychologists and volunteers; a significant proportion of those who are women because it is they who complete, complement and strengthen our existing palliative care services.

The irony is that, as much as it is a matter of pride, the responsibility of family caregivers largely rests with women. How often have we asked patients, “Do you have a daughter or a sister”?. Gender inequities in receiving treatment and in caregiving are a reality; it is also the responsibility of women to ease that difference. The irrefutable strength of family caregiving is carried by female caregivers, whose role has been designated and endorsed by ideologies and culture.

As we endeavour to support them, we must pay tribute to the Non-Governmental Agencies in our country many of which like Can Support, PalCare, and Romila Palliative Care have been set up by cancer survivors and family caregivers. They have been instrumental in advocacy, and in providing community palliative care and are being led by women of substance!

There are many centres across the length and breadth of our country which have women working tirelessly for the cause of holistic care and this article is a tribute to each one of them.

Palliative Care is also not only about the women, but the men who work tirelessly too, many times in the background, maybe even marginalised by the women! We acknowledge their support, presence and effort and salute the women behind them too!


Note: This article is a republication from the Indian Association of Palliative Care‘s (IAPC) free monthly e-newsletter (March edition).

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