Over sixty alumni and faculty past and present gathered at the Institute at the Denmark Hill campus to celebrate the many positive contributions and achievements MSc alumni have gone on to make in the field of palliative care.
On the day, attendees travelled long distances from all across the UK to take part in this celebratory reunion with old friends, colleagues and tutors, with some even coming in internationally, from Spain and Uganda.
The day kicked off with a warm welcome from Professor Irene Higginson, Head of Division and Director of the Cicely Saunders Institute, followed by an introduction by Course Director Dr Jonathan Koffman revisiting the programme in the early days, its incipient philosophy and objectives, as well as tracing its exciting accomplishments over the years.
Dr Mary Baines, Emeritus Consultant in Palliative Medicine at St Christopher’s Hospice, delivered her keynote lecture on: ‘Hunch or proof? A challenge for palliative care’, taking the audience back in time to the late 1960s when hospice and palliative care was only a fledgling movement.
Dr Baines recounted how double blind controlled trials into the effects of various ingredients of the Brompton cocktail overturned a long-held hunch about drug usage for pain control. These early trials went on to be instrumental in establishing a strong research basis to clinical practice in palliative care for both physical and psychosocial issues.
Throughout the rest of the day, fourteen alumni delivered short talks on areas of their current research and practice, spanning topics as specific conditions, e.g., kidneys, breathlessness, and ILD; place of death; paediatric palliative care; music therapy; palliative care education and PhD study; targeted policy change; organizational leadership; as well as the place of faith and spirituality in the delivery of palliative care.
Delegates enjoyed the opportunity to catch up with old friends and mentors and establish new connections over refreshments; tours of the institute building were also given. The day concluded on a high note with participants reinvigorated and re-inspired, and with a lively flow of conversation over wine and live music.
For many, the event provided an occasion to reflect on the exciting trajectories careers have taken following completion of the MSc. Participants remarked on the wealth of knowledge and power gathered in the room, evident as story after story transpired – from the many talks and conversations – of how alumni have mobilized their knowledge to make a difference in their respective communities, locally and also beyond.
One participant wrote, “[It is] to be acknowledged how much palliative care alumni has improved palliative care along the years. It is possible to translate research – knowledge – into action.”
Another commented on the treat of “experiencing again the enthusiasm and passion of the MSc organisers,” and coming away “feeling moved, inspired, and supported.” Still for others, the day renewed their enthusiasm for research.
It was also apparent, over the course of the day, that the programme’s continued development and success is in no small part thanks to the indefatigable conviction of Dr Koffman and his team, who remain committed to accepting the best and brightest students onto the course, and sending them empowered to make a mark on their communities.
With his characteristic humour, Dr Koffman exhorted alumni to continue to be “irritants” in the field, to persist in their “disturbance businesses” on behalf of the millions of patients who die each year across the globe and the families attached to them, many of whom lack a platform to voice their needs and concerns.
Since the programme’s inception in 1999, the MSc in Palliative Care has exposed over 400 students to the importance of evidence-based care, providing theoretical and skills grounding to inform clinical practice and service development within the field of palliative care.
To find out more about the MSc in Palliative Care and other study options, please visit the Cicely Saunders Institute website.