Palliative Care Physician - How to Become a Palliative Care Physician

Palliative Care Physician

Jump to:

Palliative Care Physician Job Description

 

Palliative care and hospice care are not the same. A palliative care physician specializes in relieving the stress and symptoms that accompany a serious or chronic illness. The general focus of palliative care is the improvement in the quality of life experienced by the patient and his or her family and caregivers.

Pain management and supportive services for patients and their family at the end of life is the purpose of hospice care. It is a service for those no longer seeking treatment with a cure as the goal. Palliative care can be provided at any age and during any stage in a serious illness. Palliative care can be received at the same time as curative treatment is administered.

.

Responsibilities

 

A palliative care physician will work with a patient and his or her family to identify, control or alleviate physical and emotional discomfort and other symptoms that often accompany a serious health condition. Palliative care physicians focus their time on providing expert management of patients’ symptoms, in addition to holding intensive meetings with family members, and ensuring that delivery of care is coordinated across the health care setting.

Palliative care physicians are there to link patients, caregivers and family members to available support groups and other services. They can improve access to helpful information so patients can make well-informed, confident decisions about their care.

Palliative care physicians are an integral part of an interdisciplinary team that usually includes nurses and social workers. Other members of the team may include pharmacists, chaplains, massage therapists, nutritionists and others. The goals of this interdisciplinary team, as outlined by the National Consensus Project for Quality Palliative Care, include:

  • Managing pain control, alleviation of psychosocial distress, provide support for spiritual concerns and meet the practical needs of the patient throughout the continuum of health care.

  • Improving a patient’s and his or her family’s access to information that can help them to understand the patient’s condition and the range of treatment options available.

  • Coordination of care across different settings by facilitating communication among providers, especially as changes occur in the patient’s condition and needs.

Interest in palliative care has seen significant growth in recent years. Palliative care is now a specialty area that physicians can choose. As more hospitals begin or expand their palliative care programs, employment opportunities for these specialized physicians will continue to increase.

.

Skills

 

Reasoning Must be able to apply facts and principles to issues to determine conclusions and solve problems. They must use knowledge and logic to find patters in happenings and determine causes and provide solutions.
Communication Must be able to clearly convey thoughts and ideas to gauge patient issues. They must also be great listeners and ask questions that involve the patient and make the environment open and relaxed.
Empathy Must be very compassionate and able to empathize with a patient's pain and other difficulties. They are able to make people feel comfortable and meet them at their emotional level to humanize themselves and let people know they care.

Stress Management

Must be emotionally stable and deal with stress effectively, so they can help others who cannot deal with their emotions or stress. Must be a solid foundation and be able to handle stress and separate personal emotion so as to stay objective and be effective in treatment.
Ethics Must have a solid ethical code and keep sessions with patients confidential as they can greatly affect people's lives and they deal with people at extremely vulnerable times in their lives. Must know that there could be consequences for error.
Patience Need to be very patient, because of potentially long sessions with patients and while dealing with people under tremendous stress and illness. They must understand it takes time to see results and be willing to put in that time.

Trustworthiness

People have to trust you. The job is all about inspiring patients and working with them through very difficult times. If they don't trust you, they won't respond to your treatment attempts.

.

Working Conditions

 

People of all ages who are facing serious or life-threatening illness may be treated by palliative care physicians. These physicians work with their patients and the families to identify pain sources or other areas of discomfort, and help the patient and family establish realistic goals for care. Palliative care physicians play an integral part in the development of a patient’s comprehensive care plan.

The palliative care physician will work with the patient’s primary care physician as well as with local hospitals, nursing homes, hospice providers and assisted living facilities. Palliative care is typically received with the patient in the hospital, but palliative care specialists will also provide services to those in need in a private practice office setting or an outpatient clinic. Some palliative physicians will even provide services in a patient’s home.

Other roles in which a palliative care physician may participate include:

  • Generalized oversight of the palliative care team

  • Training other health care professionals in the principles of palliative care

  • Engaging in activities designed to increase aware of and availability of access to palliative care services

 


.

How to Become a Palliative Care Physician:

 

1. Earn a Bachelor's Degree (4 Years)

 

To become a palliative care physician, you must first earn a bachelor's degree. It would be a good idea to take a pre-med program course in college as you will need pre-requisites in math and science. The courses differ depending on which path you choose, but some of the courses are the same, mainly the math, sciences, and some psychology courses. You need to make sure you get the proper pre-requisites for medical school.

A course load for pre-med might look like the following: 

 

Grade Level Example Courses

Freshman Year

 

  • General Chemistry I & Lab
  • General Chemistry II & Lab
  • Biology & Lab
  • Calculus I
  • English 101
  • English 102
  • Humanities Requirement
  • Physics I & Lab
  • Physics II & Lab

Sophomore Year

  • Organic Chemistry I & Lab
  • Organic Chemistry II & Lab
  • Fundamentals of Microbiology & Lab
  • Genetics
  • Physiology 
  • Humanities Requirement
  • Electives

Junior Year

 

  • Cell Structure & Function
  • General Virology & Lab
  • Microbial Genetics & Lab
  • Biochemistry I
  • Biochemistry II
  • Physics
  • Electives

Senior Year

  • Upper Level Biology
  • Upper Level Chemistry
  • Upper Level Physics
  • Upper Level Psychology
  • Upper Level Kinesiology 
  • Electives

 

Be sure to keep your grads high, as medical school admissions are very competitive. You need to start prepping for the MCAT as well, because you need to take it to advance.

 

2. Take the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT)

 

To be admitted into medical school, candidates must first take the MCAT, or Medical College Admission Test, a 7.5 hour, standardized, multiple choice exam used to assess the applicant's knowledge of science, reasoning, communication, and writing skills. 

 

The MCAT is divided into four sections:

 

Section/Category  Section Breakdown
Biological & Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
  • 59 multiple-choice questions
  • 95 minutes
  • Tests biology, organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry, and biochemistry
Chemical & Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
  • 59 multiple-choice questions
  • 95 minutes
  • Tests biochemistry, biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics

Psychological, Social, & Biological Foundations of Behavior

  • 59 multiple-choice questions
  • 95 minutes
  • Tests introductory psychology, sociology, and biology
Critical Analysis & Reasoning Skills
  • 53 multiple-choice questions
  • 90 minutes
  • Tests reading comprehension, humanities, and social sciences

 

You can find study materials, MCAT registration, and your test scores on the AAMC website here.

 

3. Earn a Medical Degree (4 Years)

 

You have two program choices in medical school to become a palliative care physician: a Doctor of Medicine (MD) program or a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) program. Each degree focuses on the same methods of treatment, but a DO degree also focuses on osteopathic manipulative medicine. Whichever path you choose, you are facing 4-5 years in medical school.

Your first couple of years will focus on the following:

  • Basic pathology
  • Anatomy
  • Biology
  • Other life sciences

In the second half of the program, you will work with doctors and other healthcare professionals to advance your skills and focus in on more specific areas in which you want to work.  

 

4. Complete a Residency Program (4 Years)

 

After medical school, you have to complete your residency in one of ten specialties. These specialties include the following:

  • Family practice
  • Physical medicine and Rehabilitation
  • Internal Medicine
  • Pediatrics
  • Emergency Medicine
  • Anesthesiology
  • Neurology
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology
  • Surgery 
  • Psychiatry

During this time, you will be supervised by other healthcare professionals and get hands on training to build upon your skills and confidence, to allow you practice independently. During your residency, you can expect to work from anywhere to three to eight years in a clinical or hospital setting. It's here you can really hone in on your skills and build upon your knowledge. 

 

5. Complete a Fellowship Program (1 Year)

 

After residency, a minimum of a one year Palliative Care fellowship must be completed that's accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education. Once you complete the fellowship, you can take an exam to become board certified. 

Fellowship programs in hospice and palliative medicine provide practitioners the opportunity to advance their knowledge of the field. Programs are available for Allopathic and Osteopathic Professionals in internal medicine, family medicine, physical medicine and rehabilitation, and psychiatry and neurology. In addition, programs are available for allopathic professionals in anesthesiology, surgery, pediatrics, emergency medicine, radiology, and obstetrics and gynecology. Some programs include an additional track in research, geriatrics, or public health

 

6. Earn the Required License and Certification

 

After you complete medical school you have to apply for your Medical License and Board Certification. 

If you graduate from a MD program, you can take the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). If you graduate from a DO program, you can take the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX-USA)

The American Osteopathic Association (AOA) and the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) recognized palliative care in 2006 as a medical subspecialty. Because of this, physicians can obtain board certification in hospice and palliative medicine by successfully completing the ABMS examination after their fellowship.

 

.

Salary Outlook

Title Company Location Posted
12.05.2016
The Stead Family Department of Pediatrics seeks a Pediatric Pain and Palliative Care physician at the rank of Associate (non-tenure), Assistant Professor, Associate Professor or Professor (tenure or non-tenure track) to contribute in the ongoing...
12.05.2016
Baystate Health, a Truven Awardwinning healthcare system and home of the University of Massachusetts Medical School-Baystate, is searching for both a full time and a part time BC/BE Palliative Medicine Physician to join the Division of...
12.05.2016
The Palliative Care/Advanced Illness Management nurse practitioner provides community based, holistic care using a best practice clinical approach grounded by research. The focus of care is on elders with advanced or end stage illness and...
12.05.2016
The Extended Care and Rehabilitation Hospice and Palliative Care Physician will practice within their scope of practice in accordance with their credentialing and privileging. Duties may include, but are not limited to: Oversee daily operations,...
  1. PEDIATRIC PAIN AND PALLIATIVE CARE PHYSICIAN Iowa City, IA University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics
    The Stead Family Department of Pediatrics seeks a Pediatric Pain and Palliative Care physician at the rank of Associate (non-tenure), Assistant Professor, Associate Professor or Professor (tenure or non-tenure track) to contribute in the ongoing...
  2. Palliative Care Physician Springfield, MA Baystate Health
    Baystate Health, a Truven Awardwinning healthcare system and home of the University of Massachusetts Medical School-Baystate, is searching for both a full time and a part time BC/BE Palliative Medicine Physician to join the Division of...
  3. Palliative Care Nurse Practitioner - Home Care Roslindale, MA Hebrew SeniorLife
    The Palliative Care/Advanced Illness Management nurse practitioner provides community based, holistic care using a best practice clinical approach grounded by research. The focus of care is on elders with advanced or end stage illness and...
  4. Physician, Hospice Palliative Care Medical Director Des Moines, IA VA Central Iowa Health Care System
    The Extended Care and Rehabilitation Hospice and Palliative Care Physician will practice within their scope of practice in accordance with their credentialing and privileging. Duties may include, but are not limited to: Oversee daily operations,...