Building bridges, making connections at the EAPC World Congress

Categories: Education.

I attended my first EAPC meeting in Copenhagen last weekend. The title of the conference was ‘Building bridges’ and this proved a very apt metaphor on so many levels; the building of knowledge through research and applying it to practice; building of understanding of others’ experience and wisdom through networking; and building one’s own thinking and insight thus forging new perspectives.

In addition to presentations from high-calibre speakers, much of my knowledge and insight was informed through one-to-one chats with new and known colleagues and gathering in small groups, with a glass or two of red wine, reflecting on what we had heard during the day.

A challenge and privilege

Prior to going I did have some concerns: could I cope with being steeped in such an intense arena, for three full days, with themes largely relating to death and dying?

Without doubt it was hard at times; I did feel challenged to consider my own mortality and the possibility of succumbing to frailty and how all things and those we love will pass in time.

But I not only managed it, I was inspired and challenged to grab as much out of the event as possible, realising I was privileged to be there.

As ever, when one attends a conference, there is responsibility and challenge on what to do with the new information and thinking acquired.

At such a large conference, with over 1,000 posters exhibited and 180 talks in various groupings and permutations over the three days, choices are informed by what will be of value to my organisation and my role objectives, as well as those of professional and personal interest.

As I was attending with my colleague Ros Taylor, we agreed each morning over breakfast which talks we would attend and meet up 10 hours later, so much the wiser!

It was amazing how often we would bump into delegates and begin conversations while waiting for trains, at the airport, sitting on a flight, or even going through customs!

Post-conference the challenge, as ever, is to prioritise the more pertinent messages and find creative and meaningful ways to communicate those to colleagues who would find it of value back in the work place.

A few observations from the conference

Cancer continues to dominate significantly in the field of research, well above all non-cancer conditions. Even when not the primary theme of research, those affected by cancer dominate the sample group engaged.

Considering how assisted dying is raising its profile here in the UK, it was only evident in one session over the whole three days, plus a few posters.

I also discovered how little of what we do in Europe can be adopted in the African or Asian contexts of care. I spoke with Dr Ednin Hamzah, Chairperson of Hospis Malaysia, who explained to me how the whole context in which they seek to work presents very different challenges. For example, a lack of government policy and society’s deep reluctance and misunderstanding about palliative care – the term ‘palliative care’ cannot be used in Malaysia.

There is also a struggle to access medicines, as Edwin explained: “There is no point me coming here learning about new pain control options when we can’t even get opioids for our patients.” Even our assessment tools do not travel well.

The one area Edwin suggested we could help with is in the development their research capabilities. Have you got such skills and would like to work with Edwin in Asia?

Clearly different cultural contexts lead to different solutions and to this end Edwin and his team are developing the multi-skilled nurse practitioner who can encompass key element of multi-disciplinary practice. This at least is one area key area of development we may have in common.

In terms of the presentations two in particular have left me with much to think on:

  • Danai Papadatou reflected on the seismic effects of the economic crisis in Greece and how the sense of loss at societal, family and individual level is impacting in so many ways. She shared how this has been witnessed by a bereavement service, one of only two in the whole country.
  • Christan Busch, a pastor from Copenhagen, spoke eloquently on what it means to exist and how we can be with the patient where they are, in their sense of being, and help them find the bridge between loss and meaning when all meaning is lost. This talk was incredibly moving and such an important concept to attend to, especially, Christan would suggest, as we live in more secular societies.

I am left with deep gratitude to all those colleagues I met during the conference who were so generous in sharing their wisdom and learning – be it through presentations, producing posters or conversations – and I hope to see many again in Madrid in 2017. Maybe I will see you there too?

Read more about the 14th World Congress of the EAPC on the International edition of ehospice.

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