Chancellor's Communique

Leading the nation in palliative care, 2-27-20

​Dear colleagues,

Breakthroughs on this campus come in many different forms. I’m proud to write to you today about our pioneering work in the field of palliative care.

Diagnosed with leukemia and suffering from intractable bone pain, Susan Jones was reluctant to take prescription painkillers because she had relatives who’d become addicted to them. After she met with a palliative care team that assuaged her fears of addiction and helped her understand that pain relief was an important part of her treatment, her recovery sped up. Today she runs marathons and plays the violin. Her story reveals something about palliative care: while doctors are focused on curing a patient’s disease, it’s sometime the attendant suffering that poses significant – and treatable – hurdles.

Serious illnesses and their treatments come with a host of side effects, including pain, fatigue, stress and depression.  How – and even whether – these are treated can deeply affect a patient’s family life, social life, finances, spiritual sense and well-being.

Palliative care, specialized medical care for people with serious illness, is provided by a team of doctors, nurses and other specialists. The goal is to improve quality of life. This includes providing emotional and spiritual support for both the patient and family, and treating distressing symptoms. People of any age can use palliative care at any point in a serious illness along with pursuing curative therapies.

Palliative care has been shown to lower the number of hospital and emergency room visits, increase the quality and value of healthcare received, and even improve overall survival outcomes. As awareness of these benefits increases, palliative care programs are growing nationally, following the lead of the CU Anschutz Medical Campus, a groundbreaker in the field, with a number of “firsts in the nation.”
  • The Palliative Care Research Group, the only research cooperative in the country focused specifically on palliative care, was created here in 2010. Co-chaired by University of Colorado Hospital Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jean Kutner, the group now includes more than 500 members and 165 participating sites and is developing a solid evidence base. 
  • The country’s first Master of Science in Palliative Care degree was launched here in 2016. It’s primarily online so interprofessional providers (doctors, nurses, social workers, psychologists, spiritual care providers) can train in palliative care while remaining in their home community practice.
  • The first massive online open course (MOOC) in palliative care was developed here in 2018, providing access to palliative care education to people across the world.
  • This summer, we will be the first in the country to offer a non-residential palliative medicine fellowship for mid-career physicians, who can become board-eligible upon successful completion.
In addition to trailblazing research and education programs in palliative care, our clinical programs are also leading the field.
  • The UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital (UCH) Palliative Care Consult Service was formally launched in 2005, followed a decade later by an outpatient clinic and a telemedicine (video-visit) program to reach patients in rural Colorado.
  • The Consult Service achieved national recognition in 2013 by the Joint Commission on Advanced Certification in Palliative Care for exemplifying the highest level of quality in person-centered care. Ours is the only hospital in Colorado and among 1% of hospitals nationally to attain this recognition.
  • This past summer, the UCH Palliative Care program was awarded the prestigious Circle of Life Award by the American Hospital Association for its innovative work. Initiatives highlighted included the Natalie Kutner Creative Arts Therapy Program, the rural telemedicine program with Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs, theNeuro-Palliative Care program, and outreach to underrepresented populations including Latinos and LGBT+ community members.

While there is an inclination to think of healthcare innovations in terms of new medicines developed or cures discovered, sometimes our most meaningful breakthroughs come in how we view and treat the whole patient and deliver the care that matters most to a person. We’re proud of our pioneering work in palliative care and its success in helping people lead longer, higher-quality lives.


Don Elliman
Chancellor, CU Anschutz Medical Campus
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