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One of the many highlights of the European Association for Palliative Care (EAPC) Congress are the EAPC Researcher Awards. Awarded jointly by the EAPC and the EAPC Research Network, these awards recognise and support the work of scientists and clinicians in the field of palliative care who make an outstanding contribution to research and clinical practice. Today we are delighted to announce the joint winner of the EAPC Post-Doctoral Award – Dr Kim Beernaert. Kim is an assistant professor and senior researcher at the End-of-Life Care Research Group, Belgium.
Thank you for being interviewed for the EAPC blog! Can you tell me what, or who, was your inspiration for a career in palliative care?
After I finished my Master studies in Experimental and Theoretical Psychology (2009), I was a teacher at a high school in Flanders, Belgium. During this first job, I realised this was not really what I wanted to do, and I looked for a PhD opportunity. I was kind of picky and was only open for research with impact on people as well as high societal impact. When I saw the vacancy for a PhD position on palliative care in a bigger project aimed to improve end-of-life care at the End-of-Life Care Research Group in Belgium, I immediately got enthusiastic. This group is well known for its high-quality scientific research, but also for its high-impact dissemination expertise.
A kind of funny fact on the start of my career in palliative care research is that before I went to the job interview, I had to look up what the word palliative care actually meant. Since then, I have experienced during my time as a researcher that many people don’t really know what palliative care is, or what it can mean to them, especially those who have no one close in their family who received palliative care. Work to be done!
Can you tell us about the research that has led to your winning this award and some of the main findings?
I started my palliative care research in 2011 and I am now a senior researcher responsible for two programs in our End-of-Life Care Research Group. These research programs are about palliative care for people with cancer and paediatric palliative care. My research, both with adults and children, has led to many interesting findings and tools and it is hard for me to choose a few but here are some highlights:
- We have developed, tested and are now implementing CAREFuL, an adapted version of the Liverpool Care Pathway to improve comfort around dying in elderly people.
- We have developed and pilot tested a paediatric advance care planning tool to improve the communication on difficult topics such as end-of-life between adolescents with cancer, their parents and health carers. This tool is now being tested in an randomised control trial in four hospitals.
- We have developed a programme to improve patient centredness of care for people with cancer, by giving them tools to start a conversation about palliative care with their physician.
- We have developed quality indicators to measure quality of end-of-life care in children with serious illness. We found 21 indicators for children with cancer, 24 indicators for children with neurologic conditions and 23 for children with genetic/congenital conditions.
- We are developing a perinatal palliative care program at gynaecology and neonatology wards, taking into account our findings from the project looking at experiences of end-of-life decision making for stillbirths, neonates and infants.
What does winning the EAPC Post-Doctoral Award mean to you?
It especially meant a lot to me that the EAPC Paediatric Task Force wanted to nominate me for this award. This task force has helped me in my development as a researcher. Every two months we meet to discuss the latest news in paediatric palliative care and to discuss the primary main actions that need to be undertaken on a practice, policy and research level. The task force is full of very talented and influential people in the field of paediatric palliative care. Knowing they believe in me, and my work, was already very satisfying. But of course, winning the award made it even more beautiful. It means to me that my research has had impact, and this is something that was important to me right from the start of my academic career.
And finally, if you had a magic wand, what is your ‘ideal world’ for palliative care/what changes would you make to palliative care?
The ideal world for palliative care is quite obvious – it is to improve or maintain the quality of life of babies, children and adults with a serious illness and for people caring for them throughout the illness trajectory. I believe a family-centred approach is needed, in the very broad sense of family.
In my opinion, the philosophy and goals of palliative care first needs to be taught to all healthcare students who later will work with people with serious illness. This education today is still very limited and fragmented. Another important change that is needed is the recognition of the need for a palliative care approach earlier in the illness trajectory and for populations other than adult cancer patients. This means more capacity to deliver these services so more investment and staff, but also in the education of patients and their caregivers – more training and knowledge to address the “early palliative care needs” throughout the trajectory, starting from diagnosis. I also believe that both formal and informal (palliative) care in the home setting needs to be used more often and thus needs to be more supported.
Thank you for speaking with us today and letting us know more about your important research, and congratulations on your award!
About the author
Kim Beernaert is an assistant professor and senior researcher at the End-of-Life Care Research Group at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and Ghent University in Belgium. She is chair of the “Palliative care for people with cancer” Research Programme at the End-of-Life Care Research Group and is also responsible for the research in pediatric palliative care. She has a master’s degree in experimental and theoretical psychology and a PhD degree in Social Health Sciences (2015). Twitter: @KimBeernaert.
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