Wishing You Light in the Darkness This Holiday Season and Always

On December 21, two things will happen: It is the shortest day so the longest night of the year, and for the first time in 800 years, Jupiter and Saturn will align so closely in their orbits as to form a “double planet” when viewed from Earth. The darkest night, the brightest light. What a perfect metaphor for where we are at this moment in this [insert superlative or expletive here] year.

It is also a perfect metaphor for a theme I’ve seen take shape in what we might call COVID Stories, first-hand accounts coming from frontline workers as they struggle through the now-third and most deadly wave of the pandemic: dark, very dark tales of tragedy and loss and helplessness illuminated by points of the blindingly bright light of human caring. (Here’s a perfect example.)

When we talk about “palliative care,” the emphasis is usually on the “palliative” – how this approach is unique, how it is different, how it is effective, how it focuses on whole persons in their multidimensional selves and experience of illness, how it relieves suffering. Throughout this year, I’ve come to appreciate the “care” part of that phrase even more.

“Care” is a word that gets thrown around a lot in health (ahem) care – profligately pinned like a sort or verbal tail on the donkey to all kinds of words that would otherwise be technical, mystifying, or harsh: intensive care, accountable care, spiritual care, value-based care, goals of care, managed care, urgent care, comfort care, futile care, withdraw care. (What?) We are, in this field, somewhat care-less with the word care.

What I’ve seen this year – even in the overwhelming pressures on our frontline workers, in the streets filled with protesters on behalf of social and racial justice, in the Zoom meetings among dispersed colleagues – is a reinvention and reimagining of care. How we CARE for each other – and how to do it better across the board – I truly hope and believe will be a legacy of this year.

For our part, we are reinventing and reimagining content in our courses to reflect the brighter lights of this year: content on health equity, reducing disparities among underserved and underrepresented groups; new methods of connection via technology in telemedicine; acknowledgement of and supports for moral distress, self-care, and resilience has been strengthened or added across our courses.

In particular, our Post-MSW Certificate in Palliative Care and Critical Palliative Care Skills for Social Workers and Counselors have been substantially revised, updated, and retitled accordingly as Advanced Practice Social Work Certificate in Palliative Care and Palliative Care Skills for Health Social Workers. Our flagship Primary Palliative Care Skills for MDs/NPs/PAs is also being updated and enhanced. New offerings, to be announced as they are completed, will follow in this vein.

For now, from our hearts to yours, we wish you rest, and as much joy and celebration as the season will allow you. And hope for a better year.

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