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Stanford University

Essentials of Palliative Care

Stanford University via Coursera


This course starts you on your journey of integrating primary palliative care into your daily lives. You will learn what palliative care is, how to communicate with patients, show empathy, and practice difficult conversations. You will learn how to screen for distress and provide psychosocial support. You will learn about goals of care and advance care planning and how to improve your success with having these conversations with patients. Finally, you will explore important cultural considerations and improve your cultural competency on the topics covered.

For clinicians, the goal of this course is to help you incorporate primary palliative care into your daily practice or help you know when to seek a specialist. We will help you improve your patient’s quality of life and provide self-care tips to help you maintain your own. For patients and caregivers, this course will empower you to talk to your provider and get palliative care, if necessary.

Stanford Medicine is jointly accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME), the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE), and the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), to provide continuing education for the healthcare team. Visit the FAQs below for important information regarding 1) Date of original release and Termination or expiration date; 2) Accreditation and Credit Designation statements; 3) Disclosure of financial relationships for every person in control of activity content.


  • Course Introduction and Overview
    • Welcome! Palliative Care Always is about optimizing quality of life at any stage of disease. This course, Essentials of Palliative Care, is rooted in the belief that incorporating the principles of palliative care into clinical practice can improve the quality of life for our patients and their support systems (including clinicians!). A team of Stanford faculty and staff designed this course to educate you about palliative care. Together, you will learn how it intersects with treating serious illness, and how palliative care skills can help improve quality of life for patients, families and providers. Our hope is that you will feel increasingly equipped to support the diverse needs of patients with serious illness.
  • Introduction to Palliative Care
    • This module focuses on what palliative care is, the roles of the care team and the difference between primary and speciality palliative care.
  • Communicating with Patients
    • Discussing difficult news is always a challenge for a variety of reasons.  In this module, we will cover methods you can use to make these conversations more successful.  

      Communication is the foundation of patient and clinician relationships and a key component of palliative care. Effective communication can build trust and promote clarity in the face of difficult decisions. Still, communication--especially about prognosis and transitions in care--is a challenging aspect of patient care in which clinicians cite a lack of confidence and skill.

      This module covers basic skills in communicating with patients, families, and peers. You will hear about practical ways to incorporate communication skills into your daily practice and your daily life. These skills will help you tune in to the needs and desires of patients and families and form a partnership that promotes well-being.
  • Psychosocial Distress
    • Most families living with cancer will experience some form of emotional, psychological or social distress. This may exist as episodes of grief or anxiety at specific points such as diagnosis or progression, or it may be a more chronic experience that has an ongoing impact on relationships and day-to-day life.

      Psychosocial distress itself affects quality of life while also exacerbating physical symptoms and influencing decisions regarding treatment.

      This module explores psychosocial distress and introduces you to skills for assessing and managing psychosocial distress. These skills will help you identify and begin to address the emotional and social needs of patients and families.
  • Goals of Care & Advanced Directives
    • Goals of cancer care are often associated with prolonging life or preparing for the end of life. However, goals of care conversations identify wishes and values that guide every medical decision and help patients and families live the best life possible at every phase of care.

      Goals of care discussions help patients and providers balance the evidence about disease and treatment with subjective needs and values. To this end, conversations about goals should be introduced early and revisited regularly to make sure healthcare decisions are in line with a patient's wishes.

      Throughout this module, we introduce goals of care conversations and communication skills as they relate to identifying goals and values.
  • Self-Care
    • Healthcare providers, in general, make a life of being attentive to and providing resources for people during times of illness and suffering. This type of work, while essential and rewarding, undoubtedly bears its cost in work-related stress, burnout and fatigue. The response to internal and external stress is a key influencer on wellbeing.

      During this module, we discuss how to identify burnout in yourself and provide tips to ease the challenges that healthcare providers face.
  • Final Steps
    • Congratulations on completing the course content. You have a few more step to complete the course. First review your reflection, next complete a peer-reviewed course project and then take the final exam. We hope you have enjoyed the course and look forward to seeing you in other classes!

Taught by

Kavitha Ramchandran


4.6 rating at Coursera based on 61 ratings

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