Marie Bakitas, Palliative Care Practice Leader, Is Care Champion for Rural Patients
University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Nursing Chair Will Deliver Closing Plenary at Symposium 2018
Marie Bakitas entered nursing “for practical reasons” as an associate degree nurse. Now a doctor of nursing science, prolific researcher, publisher, clinician, teacher and mentor, Dr. Bakitas continues on her quest to improve quality of life for patients and their families who, like the first patients she worked with, are burdened with advanced cancer and other serious illnesses.
In less than ten years in her profession, Bakitas advanced her nursing degrees, and became a member of the autologous bone marrow transplant team at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, MA, followed by Hematology/Oncology Clinical Nurse Specialist at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, and faculty at Dartmouth Medical School (now called Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth) in Lebanon, New Hampshire.
Advanced Illness Has Psychosocial Effect on Patients and Families
As Dr. Bakitas moved through these roles, she observed the psychosocial effects of advanced cancer on her patients and their families. In an American Cancer Society post, Dr. Bakitas explained her observations: “Everybody was all jazzed about the people that were getting cured. It seemed like nobody wanted to talk about the rest of the people who weren’t. Those patients really needed a palliative care approach.” She was determined to include family caregivers, and an early palliative care intervention in her research, work that has become widely recognized and honored in the palliative care field.
Demonstration Project Employed Telehealth
As coordinator for Project ENABLE (an acronym for Educate, Nurture, Advise, Before Life Ends), a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation demonstration project, Dr. Bakitas launched a plan to explore answers to the very questions she had pondered about people who were facing a new diagnosis of advanced cancer. Through telehealth coaching with patients and their family caregivers located in mostly rural areas, nurses helped sort out the many decisions facing them, and walked with them on the path of the disease’s impact on their physical, emotional, social and spiritual well-being.
Early Research Recognized Nationally
The ENABLE research continued, and eventually led to findings that suggested patients’ quality of life and survival was improved, and stress and depression decreased, by receiving palliative care support shortly after a cancer diagnosis. In 2009 the research was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, and was recognized for having the “highest potential for impact on the field of hospice and palliative medicine” at the 2010 American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine and Hospice and Palliative Nursing (AAHPM/HPNA) Annual Assembly.
An Award Was Established in her Name
In 2010 Dr. Bakitas was presented with the Brilliant Future New Investigator Award by the Council for Advancement of Nursing Science (CANS) due to this research. Her impact at Dartmouth was so great that the institution subsequently established The Bakitas Award for New Knowledge, Innovation and Improvement, an annual award given in recognition of dedication to nursing research. She has received numerous other awards and recognitions for her work over the span of her career.
ENABLE Work Continues
Dr. Bakitas, now professor, Marie L. O’Koren Endowed Chair, School of Nursing, and associate director, Center for Palliative and Supportive Care at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, with her team continues a research agenda developing innovative care models (such as telehealth) to reach patients with serious illness in rural areas who are often isolated from palliative care supports that are now widely available in urban centers. In this new phase, the ENABLE team is exploring how the original results will hold up in racially diverse, underserved, and non-cancer populations.
Symposium Closing Session Weaves Together Threads
Dr. Bakitas’ research has greatly impacted the practice of and access to palliative care. In the Symposium’s closing keynote address, Dr. Bakitas will weave together the threads of quality in education, research and practice presented at the Symposium, with the threads of her own work, which for the span of her career has been the embodiment of the Symposium’s theme.