24 November 2022

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International students inspired to deliver change

Multi-Professional Academy students supported by Women in Fellowship return home ready to push boundaries

To create hospice and palliative care that’s fit for the future, both here in the UK and internationally, it’s essential we work together as a multi-professional group to address individual and shared contemporary challenges. That’s the rationale behind the St Christopher’s Multi-Professional Academy (MPA), which brings together doctors, nurses, allied health and other professionals from across the globe for a five-day programme packed full of structured discussions and presentations designed to enable them to reflect on their own care setting and create a plan to implement their learning into practice.

MPA 2022 was the first time we’ve been able to welcome participants in-person for three years – and the first time we’ve been able to make the most of our fantastic St Christopher’s Centre for Awareness and Response to End of Life (CARE) for this programme.

Since 2000, with the generous support of Women in Fellowship, we’ve been able to provide financial support for international participants. This year four joined us, from Asia and Africa. As well as playing an active part in the week-long MPA programme, the bursary students stayed on for an additional week to witness all aspects of the holistic palliative care package St Christopher’s offers.

We talked to three of these bursary students as they came to the end of their time here in south London. Kayla Bull is a registered counsellor, working as Education and Research Manager at Tygerberg Hospice in Cape town, South Africa. Shyni Mallathodikayil works as a nurse at the Institute of Palliative Medicine in Kerala, India. And the third bursary student to share their reflections on their time as part of the MPA, was Kemi Oyekola Oluweakemi, a nurse with 20 years’ experience, the last eight of those in palliative care in a hospital in Ibadan, Nigeria.

Shyni and Kemi both appreciated the opportunity to meet fellow palliative care nurses and discover that the challenges they face are not unique to them in their situation. As an example of this, both bemoaned the lack of autonomy afforded nurses in their countries.

“The nurses can’t take a decision and they get paid lower wages too,” Shyni said. “We know our place. And palliative care is not part of the nursing curriculum.”

Kemi added: “I learned that there are so many challenges that are common to us all. We had a colleague on the programme from Iceland and even though it is a European country, she said they don’t have the autonomy to carry out certain duties as a nurse. The challenge of inequality in assessment and diagnosing is common to many of us too.”

As for the content of the week-long programme, Kemi said it had more than matched up to her expectations.

“It’s been so amazing and all the lectures were so impactful with just the right mix of theory and practice. The thing that I enjoyed learning about most was the involvement of the community team because in my country so many people in the community don’t really care about patients dying at the end of life.”

Kemi Oyekola – MP Academy student

Armed with her new-found knowledge, Kemi is keen to develop more active community engagement on her return to Ibadan, especially diagnosing and caring for people with living with frailty and dementia, a condition she says is widely misunderstood in Nigeria.

Discovering those mutual challenges and being able to sit down and discuss ways of overcoming them was a highlight of the programme for Kayla too.

“It was so nice to meet colleagues from across the world. We struggle with the same issues; the need to advocate, the need for equality and equity is across the world when it comes to palliative care. I think we’ve really been able to share our different ideas, our experience and frustrations. Often, we think we’re the only people experiencing these challenges and when you bring a group from all over world and put them in room together, we are pretty much the same.”

Kayla said she felt inspired to return to her hospice in Cape Town ready to adopt a more adventurous approach. She added: “It will be nice to be able to do something different, to be a pioneer and really be dangerous. I think that’s what palliative care needs now, people to be risky and to push boundaries of what hospice is what palliative care is and what it is to be a person.”

For Shyni, her main aim when resuming work in Kerala is to empower her team. “I want to explain what I have learned to my colleagues and make my other nurses have the capability of taking classes and experience sharing. They normally say they don’t want to as they don’t have the confidence, but I want to help them be more confident to learn more.”

And finally, what would this trio say to their health professional colleagues perhaps considering applying to come on the programme?

Kayla spoke for the three of them when she said:

“I would definitely recommend this course to medical professionals and all those in psychosocial positions too – counsellors, psychologists, social workers, occupational therapists and all our allied workers – there is a need to really understand palliative care and to incorporate it across all of these specialisms.”

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