Introducing our new PALPRAC secretary, Dr Jayne Cunningham

Dr Jayne Cunningham, secretary of PALPRAC

Jayne experienced the effects of poor communication skills whilst going through cardiac surgery at the age of 8.

“I would see this group of stiff, white jacketed doctors standing at the end of my bed talking amongst themselves and occasionally holding up a black x-ray to the light before striding over to my bedside and asking me to turn my neck to the side so they could look at my pulsating veins, ” she recalls.

Nobody thought to talk and explain to her what was happening and what the importance of those veins in her neck were. She knew she didn’t want to become one of “those” doctors!

After qualifying from Wits University, she went on to do several diplomas in Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, HIV Management and Palliative Care in 2016.


She spent 10 years working as a GP in Johannesburg, loving the involvement in the lives of families and seeing multiple pathologies. In 1997 (the era before anti-retroviral medication) she became more and more aware of the plight of people living with AIDS and the need to be able to offer good psychosocial support and communication to patients and their families when they became seriously ill.

“We would treat their symptoms as best as possible, offer a hand to hold or a hug when others were too afraid to. In retrospect we tried to offer dignity, also in their last days. We ensured that these patients would not be forgotten by doing small things like making of special memory boxes. It was during this HIV pandemic that I felt I could best practice holistic care, put a human touch back into medicine and not just prescribe antibiotics and vitamin tablets!”

She has continued to work in the field of HIV care and currently works at Helderberg Hospital, Somerset West in the Infectious Diseases Outpatient’s Department.

As HIV became a chronic manageable disease, she started to wonder about other illnesses that could benefit from the skills used in the early days of HIV and hence went on to study Palliative Care. She is volunteering at her local Hospice. She has also now begun to play a role in teaching other doctors and providing palliative care to patients at Helderberg Hospital. She particularly enjoys teaching medical students the skill sharing bad news compassionately but clearly, having conversations with patients about the hard things and being authentic with patients.
The COVID 19 Pandemic has also allowed her to ensure that the front-line doctors provide the necessary palliative care where needed.

Jayne is married to Garth and they have two teenagers, Rebecca, and Leigh. In her spare time, she loves to dance and watch Jane Austin films!