Outlook: Newsletter of the Society of Behavorial Medicine

Winter 2020-21

Interested in Behavioral Medicine and Palliative Care? A ‘How-To’ for Getting Started

Katherine Ramos, PhD; Laura Porter, PhD; Mike Hoerger, PhD; Kimberly Hiroto, PhD; and Sean O’Mahony, MD; Palliative Care SIG

Psychologists and other behavioral scientists are becoming increasingly interested in pursuing clinical and research opportunities in the growing field of Palliative Care. The focus of palliative care is to improve the quality of life of persons living with serious life-limiting illness, and for their families. This year, SBM approved the formation of the Palliative Care Special Interest Group (SIG) to support SBM members working in this area.

The SIG recently convened a panel of clinicians and researchers (early to senior in their respective careers) who presented a webinar on palliative care training and research opportunities. Speakers identified several cross-cutting themes for how to get started. Those themes include:

  • Seek mentoring early and often. If local mentors are unavailable, reach out and secure distant mentors. For researchers, one tip includes using the NIH reporter search engine and use keywords to find investigators in your area of focus. Don’t be afraid of “cold emailing” investigators. Investigators with R01s may have opportunities for postdoctoral fellowships or diversity supplements.
  • Become connected with palliative care-focused organizations. In addition to the SBM Palliative Care SIG, the National Palliative Care Research Center (NPCRC), Palliative Care Research Cooperative (PCRC), Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association (HPNA), Social Work Hospice and Palliative Network (SWHPN), and American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine (AAHPM) provide important opportunities for networking, training, and leadership experiences.
  • If you are early career, consider a clinical internship or fellowship in palliative care such as the Coleman Palliative Medicine Training Program (CPMTP) or the VA Health Care System Interprofessional Palliative Care Fellowship Program offered in 6 VA facilities (e.g., Palo Alto, CA; West LA, CA; Portland, OR; San Antonio, TX; Milwaukee, WI and Bronx, NY) . The VA also offers additional Palliative Care training for psychologists in clinical internship rotations and in fellowship. Leverage existing collaborative interprofessional training programs to build local interprofessional training programs to support professional development, informal mentorship, and resiliency. Consider pooling resources to build local and statewide mentored learning communities (e.g. the new Michigan Interdisciplinary PC Training Network).
  • Increase multidisciplinary collaborations. Palliative care is a team sport. Collaborating with others outside your specialty will expand your knowledge and may generate novel ideas for research and clinical practice. Consider reaching out to palliative care physicians and social workers; ask to shadow them in clinic or attend their grand rounds or team meetings.
  • Have a vision, strategize and goal-set around the career you desire. Outline 1-year, 3-year, and 5-year career goals. Identifying a clinician or researcher whose career you like and mirroring their path is one way to get started. As you continue to strategize your long-term plans, be sure to keep track of your metrics for success (e.g., number of clinical demonstration projects, publication record, grant funding, leadership involvement). Be open to modifying these plans as changes in the health care environment occur: adversity may become an opportunity.
  • Play to your strengths. Consider your training background and specialty and how your past experiences may yield a high value to your approach to palliative care work. Examples include:
  • If you are a clinical or counseling psychologist, consider offering your expertise in psychological assessments as a service to palliative care clinics. You could also develop theory-informed psychological interventions and/or train other palliative care providers in existing evidenced-based interventions.
  • If you are trained in geriatrics, leverage this expertise to address the special needs of older adults in palliative care settings (e.g., integrating geriatric assessment tools in clinic, targeting patient and caregiver education and support across the dementia continuum).
  • If you are a health economist, consider your role in assessing and evaluating economic outcomes of palliative care services.

Whichever training or opportunity path you choose in palliative care, you stand to benefit from enjoying a highly rewarding and personally meaningful career.

Please feel free to reach out for more question, and if you're interested in joining the Palliative Care SIG, contact us!