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Perelman School of Medicine, located on the south end of the Penn Campus Credit: Sophia Leung

The Perelman School of Medicine has launched a new four-year palliative care curriculum to teach students how to care for patients with terminal illness by integrating simulation-based learning and clinical training.

Penn is one of the few medical schools in the country that provides a robust, four-year curriculum on palliative care. The treatment focuses on reducing the severity of stress of disease symptoms and is crucial to improving the quality of life of patients. 

“Good palliative care practices make for better physicians and better patient care,” Suzanne Rose, Senior Vice Dean for Medical Education at the Medical School, wrote in a press release.

The new program is termed “CARE-7,” which stands for communication, attention, responsiveness, and empathy. The “7” refers to the seven overarching goals of the curriculum, such as effective communication.

The CARE-7 curriculum is funded by Barbara M. Jordan, a member of the Penn Medicine Board, according to the press release.

Students will engage in simulation-based learning and structured clinical practice to develop their skills in palliative care through a "step-wise structure."

Pre-clerkship students will first be introduced to fundamental concepts surrounding palliative care before expanding on those skills through hands-on clinical applications. Lastly, students practice their advanced expertise and engage in supplemental training through electives, according to the press release.

“This curriculum teaches students at every stage of their education how to communicate, improve care, ease suffering, and give dignity to patients and their families,” Nadia Bennett, Associate Dean of Clinical and Health Systems Sciences Curriculum at the Medical School and CARE-7 advisor, said.

Palliative care courses had been offered as part of the Nursing School’s Palliative Care Certificate program. This curriculum requires two core units and one elective unit for master’s level nurses. Undergraduates with permission are allowed to enroll in one of the core courses "NURS 5570: Principles of Palliative Care" as well. The program however does not include a clinical component.

Other efforts are being made to bolster palliative care as well. Starting in 2023, the Berkman Summer Internship in Palliative Care will provide an opportunity for underrepresented and historically excluded students to gain exposure to the specialty over an intensive eight weeks.

“This education will pay dividends in multiple ways,” Alana Sagin, Associate Professor of Hospice and Palliative Care and CARE-7 curriculum director, said. “We hope that CARE-7 will encourage students to analyze their own practice as they encounter more opportunities in residency and beyond.”