St. Jude hosts largest pediatric palliative care symposium in the country
Event attracts more than 325 health care professionals from 33 states and 19 countries
(MEMPHIS, TN.- June 14, 2017) - The Division of Quality of Life and Palliative Care for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital hosted the first Pediatric Palliative Oncology Symposium on the hospital’s campus June 8-9. The largest symposium on this topic in the United States doubled initial attendance expectations, with participants from 33 states and 19 countries.
Although palliative care is not a new concept for adult patients and pediatric patients with catastrophic illnesses, St. Jude is leading the way in integrating it into pediatric cancer care from the start of treatment. The hospital’s staff focuses simultaneously on both cure and comfort.
The event’s organizer, Justin Baker, M.D., chief of the Division of Quality of Life and Palliative Care for St. Jude, has gained a national reputation for his expertise in pediatric palliative care. His goal was a symposium that presented cutting-edge and innovative practices for integrating palliative care into treatment for pediatric cancer patients. He’s also an advocate for including palliative care as an integral part of the treatment strategy for these children from the beginning of treatment.
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“I think about it as fighting and treating suffering,” Baker said. ‘It’s about addressing what’s bothering them the most and making every day the best day it can be. We fight the disease with everything we have, but at the same time, we’re integrating a holistic approach.”
Along with several speakers who are experts in the field of palliative care, one of the highlights of the symposium was a role-playing exercise with a group of St. Jude parents who lost their children to cancer.
Those sessions, called “Difficult Conversations,” featured a group of parents who regularly provide training to St. Jude nursing staff. The parents guided conference attendees on how to interact with patient families when delivering difficult news. This marks the first time that group of parents have worked with staff outside of St. Jude.
Elizabeth Wood, a licensed clinical social worker from DuPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, DE., said she wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity to collaborate with physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners, psychologists and patient families at a social work conference. And hearing from the bereaved parents provided a new, and much-needed perspective. She said she’s also looking forward to the next symposium.
“They’re the ones who teach us how to continue to work with families in anticipation of losing a child, and that’s very valuable work,” Wood said. “I will take something back to my team in Delaware from every session I attended. I’m absolutely coming again, and I’ve already texted my team and I’m bringing friends.”
With attendance for the inaugural symposium far exceeding his initial expectations, Baker said he’s well into planning for the symposium’s second edition in 2018. One aspect he’s looking forward to integrating next year is bilingual sessions in English and Spanish.
“I feel very, very excited about this year, but I’m also looking forward to the annual process,” Baker said. “Palliative care is an institutional belief and a priority for St. Jude. I’m grateful to be at a place that truly believes this must be an institutional priority going forward.”
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St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is leading the way the world understands, treats and cures childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases. It is the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center devoted solely to children. Treatments developed at St. Jude have helped push the overall childhood cancer survival rate from 20 percent to 80 percent since the hospital opened more than 50 years ago. St. Jude freely shares the breakthroughs it makes, and every child saved at St. Jude means doctors and scientists worldwide can use that knowledge to save thousands more children. Families never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing and food — because all a family should worry about is helping their child live. To learn more, visit stjude.org or follow St. Jude on social media at @stjuderesearch.