What is the job of a Palliative Care Specialist?

palliative care

Do you wish to make a career in medicine but want to know your patients as humans first rather than defining them by their illness? Do you consider yourself to be a compassionate and empathic person who believes in maintaining close, intimate doctor-patient relationships, providing them with hope when they’re most in need? If your answer to all the above is yes, then perhaps you should consider the job of a palliative care specialist.

What exactly is Palliative care?

Palliative care medicine is a relatively new but rapidly growing specialty in the field of medicine. As compared to regular doctors who focus on curing specific conditions. Palliative care specialists tend to focus more on easing the suffering of the patients. Their main goal is to improve the quality of life for people in any stage of their illness, whether it is life-threatening, terminal, or curable. Palliative care specialists work closely with other physicians and specialists to treat patients and provide them with hope and care. 

What skills should one have for the job of a palliative care specialist?

Not everyone has what it takes to become a palliative care specialist. Some inherent skills and traits required for the job of a palliative care specialist include (but are not limited to):

  • Compassion and empathy towards others 
  • A high level of personal credibility
  • Having a keen interest in enhancing the quality of life for patients with a terminal illness
  • Creativity and a sense of humor to help make the most of patients’ end of life care
  • Non-discriminatory, flexible outlook along with a sense of humor
  • Possessing a calm and reassuring demeanor 
  • Having the ability to work under pressure and stressful situations
  • Adaptability and resilience
  • Ability to work well with others and in teams
  • Aptitude to take on the role of a leader (if and when required)
  • Strong communication skills (to sensitively deal with people in complicated circumstances)
  • Taking responsibility for one’s work and providing the best possible care to each patient 
  • Possess expertise in managing different types of pain and distress.
  • Palliative care specialists must also have the grit to go out of the way when necessary and give the best possible care to patients with a shortened lifespan.
  • They should also have exceptional decision-making skills. 
  • Having the expertise to multitask and communicate (with families, professionals, and others)
  • Ability to play the role of a mediator and handle situations where there is conflict and disagreement between patients’ families and professionals

So what duties and responsibilities can I expect in becoming a palliative care specialist?

Palliative care was first recognized in 2006 by the American Board of Medical Specialties as a subspecialty. Some of the key duties and responsibilities one can expect while working as a palliative care specialist include:

  • Striving to achieve the best quality of life for their patients (irrespective of how long that might be)
  • Play an active role in all anticipatory planning with patients and professionals
  • Planning for the last year of patients’ life
  • Keenly observing each patient and managing pain and other symptoms. This involves getting in touch with the professionals and acting as a liaison between the two.
  • Address the social, psychological, and spiritual needs of all patients promptly.
  • Facilitate multi-professional support and care at home facilities to avoid any unnecessary hassle.
  • Provide support in end of life care, in a way that meets the needs and wishes of both the individual and the family
  • Act as a support system for the family and significant others throughout the patient’s illness and their bereavement.

Educational Requirements for the job of palliative care specialist

So now that you have decided that working as a palliative care specialist is indeed your true calling. Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of how to get the job.

1: Complete medical school with a four-year degree

2: Sign up and complete a residency in one of the following ten specialties (family practice, emergency medicine, psychiatry, physical medicine and rehabilitation, pediatrics, internal medicine, neurology, obstetrics and gynecology, anesthesiology, and surgery)

3: Complete a minimum of a one-year-long fellowship in palliative care.

4: Take the exam and become board certified in hospice and palliative care.

Working as a palliative care specialist

After getting certified to work as a palliative care specialist, one can easily 

  • Work as a consultant in community and hospital settings.
  • You can also opt to work exclusively in a hospital along with a palliative care team of your own
  • Trainee palliative care specialists, however, tend to rotate between hospitals, outpatient clinics, home visits, etc to gain more experience

What about salary?

The salary of a palliative care specialist hinges on many factors. These include their education, training, experience, and location. A palliative care specialist makes around $75 an hour and can earn anywhere from $114,000 to $212,568 annually. Apart from this, working as a palliative care specialist allows you access to other benefits like medical and dental insurance, leaves and paid time off, etc. 

Career outlook and prospects

Although palliative care is a relatively new branch of medicine, the potential career growth looks good. Increased importance is now being placed on improving a patient’s quality of life rather than just being focused on curing his condition. All of this ultimately creates a need for the job of a palliative care specialist.

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