Shout out to peers, mentors, teachers, and educators in palliative care

Equipping teachers with best philosophy, self-help methods and teaching strategies is a part of palliative care education that needs further attention, investigation and development. Piret Paal, Researcher and coordinator at the WHO Collaborating Centre for Nursing Research and Education at the Paracelsus Medical University in Salzburg, Austria, highlights the results of a recent survey.

Piret Paal

In 2017, the World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Centre at the Paracelsus Medical University in Salzburg, Austria and the European Association for Palliative Care (EAPC) launched a survey to collect information on post-graduate palliative care education. Among other central topics the survey explored the teacher’s role in palliative care education. This blog post is to thank all peers, teachers, and educators, who break barriers and build bridges in order to advance palliative care globally.

The results revealed that a good teacher should organise the learning in a stimulating way, should know the field; should be ready to learn, should teach and lead by example, and be real. The teacher should be a coach, facilitator, critical friend, mediator, mentor and role model throughout the learning process. This means having the flexibility to move between teaching, training, coaching and mentoring as the learner advances.

A good mentor should be kind, helping to accept the uncertainty, providing emotional support and guiding the learning process by example. Furthermore, the teacher should be authentic, warm-hearted, embodying and living the principles of palliative care.

Who has been your best teacher in palliative care? Why?

First come peers and colleagues, who understand the importance of teamwork, communication, and are able to put patients’ and caregivers’ needs first:

“My colleagues, because they have so much experience, and we can discuss everything with each other.”

“All the professionals who have encouraged my scientific formation, helped to develop a good teamwork focussing on the patient needs.”

Much can be learnt from a teacher, who has done his/her own work on self-understanding and self-reflection around pain, death, and the meaning of suffering

“My boss, due to his compassion, humanity, sensitivity, tenderness, kindness putting the patient/ family and others at the top no matter who you are, where you come from.”

“A general nurse, who was teacher for many years, had homecare experience, including palliation, very human, open, interested, and willing to do well.”

“My medical director – brilliant in communication, broad experience.”

“My professor at university … because he was real, caring, and believed in what he did!”

Dedicated mentors make good future educators

“My mentor, because he always allowed me to speak up, to ask questions, to inquire, to never be satisfied with less than a controlled symptom, achieving a better quality of life of any of my patients. His patience with my sometimes stupid questions, never letting me feel stupid, never feeling that there are questions that are not allowed or are not appropriate… the freedom to talk and discuss, the lesson that there is no professional that is higher or lower in our team …  He taught me to be appreciative and to forgive, to teach and to serve others, to help and ask for help whenever needed, that there is nothing to be ashamed of when not knowing a thing – even offering his own access to very valuable literature sources or publications. I had a great mentor, who taught me to be a sensitive and passionate mentor myself.”

“My mentor’s main question to me as a professional was again and again: why are you attracted to this part of care, what in your life/personality makes you want to work with dying people? Is that your strength or is it a potential pitfall? Getting aware of background motives has helped me a lot personally, but also in teaching by asking the students, what their motives are in order to make them aware of their strengths and weaknesses.”

Thus, considering the essential need for palliative care education, the results of this survey underline the necessity for train-the-trainer programmes (Hauser et al., 2015, Kang et al., 2015, Widger et al., 2016). Equipping teachers with best philosophy, self-help methods and teaching strategies is a part of palliative care education that needs further attention, investigation and development. 

Cicely Saunders, Ricardo Tavares, Peter Nieland, Roni Sabar, Peter Fässler-Weibel, Philip Larkin, Rod MacLeod, Robert Twycross, Eduardo Bruera, Enric Benito, all clinicians, colleagues, educators and mentors, who let their students feel the power of their visions towards more human and comprehensive care – thank you for doing such inspiring work!

If your peer, mentor, or teacher was not mentioned, tag and share!


HAUSER, J.M., PREODOR, M., ROMAN, E., JARVIS, D. M. & EMANUEL, L. 2015. The Evolution and Dissemination of the Education in Palliative and End-of-Life Care Program. J Palliat Med, 18, 765-70.

KANG, J., YANG, E. B., CHANG, Y. J., CHOI, J. Y., JHO, H. J., KOH, S. J., KIM, W. C., CHOI, E. S., KIM, Y. & PARK, S. M. 2015. Evaluation of the National Train-the-Trainer Program for Hospice and Palliative Care in Korea. Asian Pac J Cancer Prev, 16, 501-6.

WIDGER, K., FRIEDRICHSDORF, S., WOLFE, J., LIBEN, S., POLE, J. D., BOUFFET, E., GREENBERG, M., HUSAIN, A., SIDEN, H., WHITLOCK, J. A. & RAPOPORT, A. 2016. Protocol: Evaluating the impact of a nation-wide train-the-trainer educational initiative to enhance the quality of palliative care for children with cancer. BMC Palliat Care, 15, 12.

Links and resources

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