Vietnam powers ahead in palliative care education

29th April 2019

The University of Medicine and Pharmacy at Ho Chi Minh City (UMP) has implemented the recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO) on palliative care education, thanks in part to funding by The Atlantic Philanthropies, via Cicely Saunders International.  By 2022, all graduates of the medical school will have basic knowledge and skills in palliative care.

The University has established one of the first academic departments of palliative care in the developing world and now offers basic, intermediate, and specialist education in palliative care, as recommended by the World Health Organization.

Basic training in palliative care is integrated into the new undergraduate medical curriculum throughout its six years and emphasises case-based learning in years five and six.

Intermediate level training totalling 50-70 hours and including both classroom and bedside teaching is now required for all medical specialist trainees in nine fields: internal medicine, family medicine, geriatrics, paediatrics, oncology, haematology, infectious medicine, tuberculosis, and critical care.

Basic training in palliative care nursing began in 2017, and it will be required for all Masters students in nursing in 2019.

Also in 2019, the department will begin training palliative care specialist physicians for Vietnam, with the specialist training program opened to physicians from the Southeast Asian region thereafter.

Clinical training is provided in four affiliated teaching hospitals: a major cancer centre that serves as the oncology referral hospital for all of southern Vietnam, a university general hospital, a major tuberculosis and lung disease hospital, and a large children’s hospital where a faculty member leads the country’s first paediatric palliative care unit.

The department was conceived over the past few years by Tran Diep Tuan, MD, PhD (President of the University), along with Dang Huy Quoc Thinh, MD, PhD (Vice Director of the Ho Chi Minh City Oncology Hospital), and Than Ha Ngoc The, MD, PhD (Chair of the University’s Department of Geriatrics), with technical assistance from Eric L. Krakauer, MD, PhD (Fulbright US Scholar and Director of the Global Palliative Care Program at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, USA).

Dr Thinh and Dr The now lead the Department, and Dr Krakauer serves as Honorary Chair. The faculty also includes Bui Thi Thanh Huyen, MD, MSc, a paediatrician, and Le Dai Duong, MD, MSc, a geriatrician. These young faculty members completed their Masters degrees in palliative care from King’s College London, as part of the Cicely Saunders Institute’s Fellowships Consortium,  funded by The Atlantic Philanthropies via Cicely Saunders International.

Faculty members are involved in several palliative care research collaborations including a validation study of a Vietnamese version of the Palliative Outcomes Scale (with Vietnam’s Ministry of Health and the Cicely Saunders Institute), an assessment of the palliative care-related knowledge and attitudes of trainees before and after training, and a study of patient outcomes and extended cost-effectiveness of a palliative home care program based at the cancer centre.

The Department’s mission is to rapidly improve access to high-quality palliative care for the people of Vietnam through education and research and to provide a model for other health sciences universities in developing countries.