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IU South Bend’s New Palliative and Supportive Care Minor is First in the Area

Nov 3, 2021

The new palliative and supportive care minor in the Vera Z. Dwyer College of Health Sciences at IU South Bend is the first minor of its kind in the area. The minor was established to introduce palliative care education at undergraduate level, broaden the scope of people educated in palliative care, and address the workforce shortage in that field.

Palliative care is not hospice care, explains Bunmi Okanlami, MD, MBA, Vera Z. Dwyer Bicentennial Chair of Palliative Care and clinical assistant professor of health sciences. Palliative care is broader than hospice care. It is comprehensive care of a person of any age and at any stage of a serious illness. Ideally it should be introduced soon after a diagnosis is made. Hospice care is palliative care at the end of life.

The purpose of palliative care is to improve the quality of life for all people with serious illnesses and their families, while still caring and treating the disease. Serious illness impacts patients in a variety of ways, not just physically, says Dr. Okanlami. Interdisciplinary teams address all facets of a serious illness, such as relief from pain and other distressing symptoms, providing psychological and spiritual support, care coordination, work and home adaptations and assistance with financial planning, all focused around the needs and goals of the family. Palliative care teams may include social workers, chaplains, therapists, psychologists, doctors and nurses, but palliative care programs require many others such as financial planners, healthcare administrators and policy makers to understand the value and therefore support it and increase access for all people.

For children and adults living with conditions such as diabetes, sickle cell anemia, heart disease, cancer, autoimmune diseases, dementia and others, palliative care improves outcomes and their quality of life. It’s one of the fastest growing areas of health care right now, says Dr. Okanlami. Palliative care is not well-understood in the area. The new minor will educate students across various disciplines in palliative care, who will in turn apply their knowledge and skills in their future professions and become advocates for themselves and their families in the community.

David Kibbe, JD, President & CEO of Indiana Trust Wealth Management and Trustee of the Vera Z. Dwyer Charitable Trust, applauds the new palliative and supportive care minor. With advances in medicine, we believe that people with serious or chronic illness will hopefully still have longevity, which is why palliative care is perhaps more important now than ever before, he said. A comprehensive palliative care program promotes living well when dealing with serious illness.

Students pursing the new 15-credit palliative and supportive care minor must complete two required courses and three electives. The first required course will be offered in the 2022 spring semester. The three elective requirements can be satisfied from a selection of courses, chosen from a broad range of disciplines across the campus.

I like to think of it as planting a lot of new seeds, says Dr. Okanlami. Undergraduate students across all the disciplines will have a chance to make a difference in palliative care because they have this understanding early in their lives.

For more information about the palliative and supportive care minor, contact Dr. Bunmi Okanlami at oaokanla@iu.edu.

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George Shirley, renowned tenor
IU South Bend