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Palliative Care Education for Healthcare Students and Professionals in Western Australia

GlobalOncologyCancer Knowledge Network is pleased to announce our collaboration with the Global Oncology Initiative (GO!) at Harvard’s Medical School, School of Public Health and affiliated hospitals. We hope this synergistic partnership will grow the diversity and breadth of information and experiences shared. Furthermore, we also hope to facilitate networking and connect medical students, residents and physicians with common goals in global oncology to achieve their endeavors.  We hope you take advantage of the interesting expert interviews, articles on global oncology experiences and discussion videos put forth in collaboration with GO!.


Student Experiences from GO! – Palliative Care Education for Healthcare Students and Professionals in Western Australia

by Katherine van Schaik, Harvard Medical School MD/PhD program


While a child, I learned of the unparalleled and exquisite clarity of the starry night sky in the Australian outback. When I finally saw such a night sky, on a cattle station near Cue, Western Australia, I knew that any ‘outback sky’ comments I had heard in childhood were understatements of the ineffable brilliance and intricacy of an expanse that at once enveloped me and drew me in, while reminding me of its distant, wise antiquity. For the first time in my life, the nomenclature of the Milky Way became obvious, and the possibility of wishing on a shooting star presented itself every five minutes. The stars are so bright in many places in rural Australia that people of Australia’s Indigenous cultures – in contrast to ancient Middle Eastern and Greco-Roman star gazers – often identify shapes and stories in the black spaces between the white luminescence of the stars, not from the stars themselves. The picture book of the nighttime sky is not so much a connect-the-dots activity, as it is a careful observation of the shadows that emerge from the surrounding glow.

For four months during 2010 and 2011, I learned about the provision of cancer treatment and palliative care for Indigenous Australians at the Combined Universities Centre for Rural Health (CUCRH) in Geraldton, Western Australia, under the supervision of the Centre’s Director, Professor Sandra Thompson, BSc MBBS, PhD, MPH. The Centre is administered by the University of Western Australia, but as the name suggests, has a consortium arrangement with the four other Western Australian Universities (Murdoch University, Curtin University, Edith Cowan University, and the University of Notre Dame (Australia)) and focuses on improving the health of the rural population. Its mission combines education, research, and community outreach, with a focus on rural health education, building the rural health workforce, and particularly, on reducing rural-urban disparities. Its programs facilitate the placement of health science career students (including those in the medical, nursing, social work, physiotherapy, pharmacy, and other allied health tracks) in rural settings to promote experiential learning and cultural orientation training. CUCRH also supports a vibrant research community of physicians, nurses, allied health professionals, public health experts, anthropologists, and community leaders who work in multidisciplinary teams to address both the practical and cultural challenges facing the provision of healthcare services in rural settings in Australia and around the world.

In 2010, my research at CUCRH sought to investigate beliefs in treatment efficacy among Indigenous cancer patients living in and around Geraldton, Western Australia, with the goal of contributing toward reducing the differences in cancer mortality between Indigenous and non-Indigenous cancer patients. Indigenous patients are less likely than non-Indigenous people to utilize preventive and screening services for cancer (especially for cervical, prostate, breast, and colon cancer) and, when diagnosed, they are less likely to be offered, to choose, and to follow through with treatments such as surgery and chemotherapy.

There are many reasons for this discrepancy….continue reading



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One Response to Palliative Care Education for Healthcare Students and Professionals in Western Australia

  1. Pamela Gravlin says:

    What a wonderful article – refreshing and encouraging to read of the enthusiasm to provide excellence in care in the extreme rural areas of Australia! Thank you so much.

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