Empowering Healthcare Professionals: Exploring the PG Diploma in Palliative Medicine at UCT

The Post Graduate Diploma in Palliative Medicine, offered by the University of Cape Town, has become a sought-after course nationally and internationally for those interested in developing their skills as palliative care practitioners. Tailored for experienced healthcare professionals, including doctors, nurses, social workers, and others, who seek expertise in caring for patients with life-threatening illnesses, the program is designed as a distance-learning course. The curriculum emphasises adult learning principles and incorporates practice-based techniques to enhance skills within the workplace.

The primary goal of the PG Diploma is to equip healthcare professionals with a comprehensive understanding of modern palliative medicine, thereby expanding access to palliative care within communities across South Africa.

We spoke to Dr. Fiona Govender, an ICU physician based in Durban, about her experience completing the course and asked her a few questions.

Why did you decide to do the PG DIP- Pall Med?

I was working as a medical officer in an ICU in Durban, and I was counselling families of seriously ill patients. I found that I was not shying away from difficult conversations. My department head then encouraged me to approach Dr. Julia Ambler, who works in pediatric palliative care. I contacted her to shadow her at her pediatric clinics and found that I loved the idea of palliative care. Dr. Ambler directed me to the course at UCT.

How has the PG DIP benefited you, your community, and your services?

The course has helped the ICU, as now I can offer better quality counselling to families. I’m more engaged in the ethical end-of-life discussions that occur in the ICU, and I take on the responsibility of teaching the rotating registrars how to break bad news and how to provide bereavement support. 

Based on what I have implemented, the quality of care in the ICU towards families has improved significantly, and to an extent, the patients. However, most of our patients are intubated and ventilated and usually sedated when we have these conversations, therefore limiting my role in the ICU to mainly symptom control.

Why should other practitioners consider the PG-Dip?

I think practitioners in Durban need to do the PG Dip. We have a large area underserved by palliative care, and most practitioners don’t understand what palliative care is. The course would benefit those seeking to enhance their communication skills, which is crucial for addressing the emotional complexities in palliative care.

What are you most looking forward to in the MPhil/ Why have you decided to do the MPhil?

I have enjoyed learning about and understanding the literature on palliative care. It’s a fascinating part that I shied away from previously. With support and guidance, UCT has given me an excellent introduction to research and taught me how to tackle it. There’s a lot of support and engagement from the faculty, which has been a great help for me.

I decided to pursue a more specialised field in palliative care because I enjoy what I do. Still, I am very limited in the practicality of ICU and symptom management, so I’m focusing my research on the practical aspects I can apply in the ICU.