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History Of Palliative Care Plus 9 Innovative Practices From The World

The origins of palliative care can be traced back to ancient human civilizations, where our ancestors cared for the dying, often intertwining religious and spiritual practices. With deep historical roots, caring for the terminally ill has evolved over the centuries, shaped by various cultural, religious, and medical influences.

Palliative Care Chronology

The ancient Greeks and Romans recognized the importance of easing suffering at the end of life. The Hippocratic Oath, a foundational document in Western medicine that every physician takes, emphasizes the duty of alleviating patients’ pain and discomfort, thus setting the foundation for compassionate end-of-life care.

During the Middle Ages, Christian monks and nuns played a significant role in caring for the sick and dying. The hospice movement emerged in the 11th century with the establishment of places of hospitality for weary travelers, the sick, and the dying. These hospices, often run by religious orders, provided physical and spiritual care to those in need.

history of palliative care

In the 20th century, the modern concept of palliative care began to take shape. The early 20th century saw the establishment of the modern hospice movement in England.

Dame Cicely Saunders, a British physician, is often regarded as the pioneer of the modern hospice movement. In the 1960s, she founded St. Christopher’s Hospice in London, which offered holistic care for the dying, accentuating pain management, emotional support, and spiritual care.

Saunders introduced the term “total pain” to describe the multidimensional nature of suffering at the end of life, including physical, emotional, social, and spiritual dimensions. Her work laid the foundation for a more comprehensive, patient-centered end-of-life care approach.

The hospice movement spread beyond the United Kingdom, reaching the United States in the 1970s. The first hospice in the U.S., the Connecticut Hospice, opened in 1974, marking a pivotal moment in the development of palliative care in the country.

At about the same time, the medical community began to recognize the limitations of aggressive, curative treatments for certain terminal illnesses. This initiated a shift in focus toward improving the quality of life for patients facing life-limiting conditions.

In 1990, the World Health Organization (WHO) formally defined palliative care and emphasized its holistic nature. The WHO definition highlighted the importance of addressing physical symptoms as well as psychosocial and spiritual aspects of care.

Since then, the field of palliative care continued to evolve and expand, gaining recognition as a medical specialty. Palliative care teams became integral components of healthcare systems globally, working collaboratively with other medical specialties to provide comprehensive care for individuals with serious illnesses.

palliative care through history

In the 21st century, palliative care has become a dynamic and rapidly expanding field. The idea of an early integration of palliative care, not solely in the context of end-of-life care but throughout the course of serious illnesses, has been gaining prominence.

More research in palliative care has contributed to a better understanding of effective interventions to improve the well-being of patients and their families.

Today, palliative care is an essential component of healthcare, acknowledged for its role in enhancing the quality of life for individuals facing serious and life-limiting illnesses.

Its origins, rooted in ancient traditions and evolving through various historical phases, have shaped a discipline that continues to adapt and respond to the changing needs of patients and their families.

However, the field of palliative care is still facing some challenges. Many prejudices and false beliefs continue to exist, and often, society is not entirely aware that hospice care and palliative care are two different services applicable at various stages of patients’ lives.

International Efforts in Developing and Promoting Palliative Care

Global efforts to improve palliative care and make it more accessible have accelerated in response to the growing recognition of the need for compassionate and comprehensive care worldwide.

The following organizations and initiatives play essential roles in advancing palliative care.

  • World Health Organization (WHO)

The WHO has been a leading force in promoting palliative care on the global stage. Since publishing the first definition of palliative care, the WHO continues to advocate for the integration of palliative care into healthcare systems, recognizing it as an essential component of universal health coverage and underlining the need for more access to care worldwide.

WHO sets the standards of palliative care worldwide

Worldwide Hospice Palliative Care Alliance (WHPCA)

The WHPCA is an international organization committed to promoting and supporting hospice and palliative care around the world. It connects national and regional palliative care organizations, providing a platform for collaboration and addressing global disparities in care.

The IAHPC is a non-governmental organization that works to advance hospice and palliative care globally. It focuses on providing education, supporting research, and enhancing the capacity of healthcare professionals and organizations to deliver palliative care services.

  • European Association for Palliative Care (EAPC)

The EAPC plays a significant role in advancing palliative care in Europe. It fosters collaboration among European countries, promotes research, creates guidelines and tools for practice, and provides a platform for the exchange of knowledge and best practices in palliative care.

  • African Palliative Care Association (APCA)

APCA is dedicated to promoting palliative care in Africa, where access to such care can be limited in many places. The organization works to build capacity, raise awareness, and advocate for policies that support the integration of palliative care into healthcare systems across the continent.

The APHN is a regional network that focuses on promoting hospice and palliative care in the Asia-Pacific region. It facilitates collaboration, provides education and training, and supports the development of palliative care services in diverse cultural contexts.

  • International Children’s Palliative Care Network (ICPCN)

ICPCN was established in 2005 and since then, it has focused on advocating for and advancing palliative care for children globally. The organization works to raise awareness, provide education and training, and support the development of pediatric palliative care services in various cultural and healthcare settings.

These and other organizations, such as Open Society Foundations, Global Initiative for Palliative Care, Palliative Care in Humanitarian Aid Situations, and Emergencies, all work towards creating a global framework that supports the development, integration, and promotion of palliative care.

Palliative Care practices around the world

Palliative care practices vary globally, as they are influenced by the countries’ diverse cultural, social, and healthcare contexts.

Here are some interesting and innovative palliative care practices from around the world.

  • Community-Based Palliative Care in India

Organizations like Pallium India focus on training community volunteers to provide basic palliative care services at home. This approach helps reach more patients in rural areas and those who may face challenges accessing healthcare facilities.

  • Holistic Approach in the Community in Cuba

Cuba is known for its holistic approach to palliative care, also emphasizing community involvement. Teams of healthcare professionals, including doctors, nurses, psychologists, and social workers, work closely with community members to provide comprehensive care.

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Practices in Australia

The efforts to integrate the cultural practices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities into palliative care involve respecting their cultural beliefs, incorporating traditional healing methods, and ensuring that care is delivered in a culturally sensitive manner.

native Australian healer talking about natural remedies | when did palliative care start

In rural Kenya, where access to healthcare can be limited, the Motorcycle Palliative Care initiative is making a difference. Healthcare workers on motorcycles travel to remote areas, providing pain relief, counseling, and support to individuals with life-limiting illnesses. This mobile approach helps bridge gaps in access to care.

  • Hospice at Home for Children in the Netherlands

The Netherlands has implemented innovative at-home programs for children, allowing seriously ill children to receive palliative care in the comfort of their own homes, surrounded by their families. This approach emphasizes the importance of familiar and supportive environments for pediatric palliative care.

  • Robot Companionship in Japan

In Japan, some palliative care facilities have introduced robot companions to provide emotional support to patients. These robots engage in conversations and play games with patients. While robots can’t replace human interaction, they serve as additional sources of comfort.

  • Integration of Traditional Healers in South Africa

Recognizing the cultural significance of traditional medicine, South Africa has made efforts to integrate traditional healers into palliative care. Healthcare providers collaborate with healers to ensure a holistic and culturally competent approach to care to reach more people in need.

traditional healer in Africa | palliative medicine

  • Art and Music Therapy in Brazil

Brazil incorporates art and music therapy into palliative care. These creative therapies aim to enhance the emotional and psychological well-being of patients. They provide opportunities for self-expression, reduce stress, and contribute to a better quality of life.

  • Nature-Based Palliative Care in Sweden

In Sweden, nature-based palliative care is gaining popularity. Some facilities are located in serene natural settings, allowing patients to connect with nature as part of their care. This approach recognizes the therapeutic benefits of the outdoors.

[older adults e enjoying nature in Sweden | palliative care

These few examples of diverse practices demonstrate the adaptability of palliative care to different cultural preferences and societal specifics and underscore the importance of tailoring care to individuals’ and communities’ unique needs and choices.

Ways to Become a Palliative Care Professional

Palliative care training and education in the United States have experienced significant growth and development in recent years as the importance of this specialized field has gained recognition.

Various initiatives and organizations contribute to the training and education of healthcare professionals. The adopted standards ensure that graduates have the necessary skills to provide compassionate and comprehensive care to individuals with serious and life-limiting illnesses.

Medical Education

Palliative care has been integrated into the curricula of medical schools across the United States. This includes both undergraduate and graduate medical education. Medical students receive training in communication skills, symptom management, and ethical considerations in palliative care. Many institutions also offer elective rotations in palliative care.

Fellowship Programs

If you are a physician, a palliative care fellowship program at a credible university may suit you. These programs provide specialized training for doctors who wish to pursue a career in palliative medicine. Typically, with a length of one to two years, these programs concentrate on developing advanced clinical skills, research, and leadership in palliative care. The number of accredited fellowship programs has grown to meet the increasing demand for trained palliative care specialists.

Nursing Education

Nursing education programs, including undergraduate and graduate nursing programs, integrate palliative care concepts into their coursework. Nurses are trained to provide holistic care, manage symptoms, and communicate effectively with patients and families. Some institutions offer advanced practice nursing programs with a focus on palliative care.

Interprofessional Education

Recognizing the importance of collaboration among healthcare professionals in palliative care, many educational initiatives emphasize interprofessional education.

This approach encourages physicians, nurses, social workers, chaplains, and other healthcare providers to learn together, fostering teamwork and a comprehensive approach to patient care. Since palliative care is often provided by a team of specialists, this integrative strategy can have many practical benefits.

Certification Programs

Various certification programs exist to validate the expertise of healthcare professionals in palliative care. For example, the Hospice and Palliative Credentialing Center (HPCC) offers certifications such as the Certified Hospice and Palliative Nurse (CHPN) and the Advanced Certified Hospice and Palliative Nurse (ACHPN).

Similar certifications are available for physicians, social workers, and other professionals.

palliative care seminar for continuous education

Continuing Education and Workshops

Like other branches of healthcare, palliative care is constantly evolving. This makes continuous learning essential. Many organizations offer workshops, conferences, and continuing education opportunities for healthcare professionals to stay updated on the latest research, practices, and innovations in palliative care.

Palliative Care Training Centers

Prominent academic institutions and healthcare organizations, such as

  • Center to Advance Palliative Care (CAPC) – Mount Sinai Health System,
  • Harvard Medical School Center for Palliative Care,
  • University of Colorado Palliative Care Center,
  • Stanford Palliative Care Center of Excellence,
  • University of Pennsylvania Palliative and Advanced Illness Research (PAIR) Center and
  • California State University Institute for Palliative Care,

to name a few, have established palliative care training centers. These centers serve as hubs for education, research, and clinical practice in palliative care. They often collaborate with other institutions and organizations to advance the field.

palliative care team

Overall, the landscape of palliative care training and education in the U.S. reflects a commitment to ensuring that healthcare professionals are equipped with the skills and knowledge needed to provide high-quality, patient-centered care for individuals with serious and life-limiting illnesses.


The attitude and implementation of palliative care have changed a lot throughout time, and the education of professionalists in this specialty reflects that.

Today, many national and international organizations and foundations address challenges such as limited access, inequality in care, and the need for education and training of specialists.

Through advocacy, research, and collaborative initiatives, they contribute to shaping policies and practices that prioritize the well-being of individuals facing serious illnesses and their families on a global scale.

The contemporary approach to palliative care recognizes the importance of addressing not only physical symptoms but also psychological, social, and spiritual needs.

At Amy’s Eden, we also follow this trend and regard caring for seriously ill individuals holistically as well. To learn more about employment opportunities and care options, you can reach out to us at (775) 884-3336 or here.


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