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Type E – Dr Margaret Venter – PCEP (Palliative Care Education and Practice) attendance, Harvard Medical School

A travel grant was awarded to Dr Margaret Venter, an Oncologist from ENFOLD Palliative Care to attend the CEP (Palliative Care Education and Practice) course at Harvard Medical School, Boston from 2 to 7 December 2018 and from 28 April to 3 May 2019.

Major areas of study and how the visit contributed to the understanding and/or management of cancer:

This course was an advanced course in palliative care development/training over a 6 month period.

Major focus areas of the course were:
Serious illness communications skills including ‘training the trainer’ attention
1. Advanced symptom management
2. Leadership skills development
3. Palliative care program development
4. Assistance with a project relating to palliative care

The serious illness communication skills training was of great value as this is an area that is underdeveloped in South Africa. Apart from using these skills in my own daily practice, I have been able to share these skills and the training thereof during my involvement with the postgraduate and registrar palliative care training at the University of Cape Town, undergraduate training at Stellenbosch University and during various skills workshops that I have been involved in. Advanced symptom management addressed aspects around especially pain management, malignant bowel obstruction and palliative sedation which has influenced my own practice.

Understanding my own strengths in leadership has assisted me in my role as secretary of Palprac, the Association of Palliative Care Practitioners of South Africa. Within this organisation, I play an important role in strategy and advocacy around improving access to palliative care for those facing serious illness, including cancer.

Spending time talking with colleagues, understanding their barriers to palliative care program implementation, as well as how successes were achieved, was exceptionally valuable. In South Africa, palliative care remains mostly centred within the NGO sector (hospices) but is slowly moving into the formal medical system. A similar status quo existed in the United States 10 years ago.

Lessons were learnt around their processes in engaging with stakeholders in developing programs in hospitals and out-patient settings.

A project to assist in defining and enabling the integration of palliative care into oncology care in the South African private sector was conceptualised. Although this project is currently on hold, good groundwork was done.

As with all across-the-border travel and contact, new relationships were forged and new perspectives shared and understood. I left feeling renewed energy and inspiration for the task at hand, which for me in particular is to see the integration of palliative care into oncology care across all sectors.

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