Featured Story

Volume 24, Number 9: September 2023

Turning Windows into Doors: How online teaching provoked my advocacy

By Victoria Hewitt
IAHPC Board Member & UK Focal Point

Almost 11 years ago, I joined the faculty of Newcastle University, one of the UK's top universities, to teach pain management within the MSc Palliative Care program, taking over a few years later as curriculum director. This course and two oncology “sister” programs, which I also lead, have been exclusively online for 20 years and, as a result, we've had the honor of health care professionals joining us from all over the world.

We learn together

My vision is a learning experience that is meaningful and valuable for every student, whatever their professional background, clinical experiences, and service model in which they operate. To achieve this, we created a virtual community of practice, where we come together with a common purpose: learning what facilitates the provision of patient-centered, evidence-based, cost-effective, and equitable palliative care. We learn together, as peers, by sharing our stories and experiences and by offering solutions to problems encountered in our day-to-day work. I merely offer a guiding hand and set of objectives.

A familiar, but different, viewpoint

My eyes were opened by the students' stories I read in the learning activities I created, as if looking through new windows and seeing a familiar view from a different perspective. Through my students, I have had the privilege of seeing the real world of palliative care: from homes, clinics, and hospital wards, to board meetings and ministries.

My knowledge of virtual reality in palliative care has expanded, as has my understanding of treating pain without access to morphine. I know about barriers to palliative care in conflict zones, COVID wards, and cancer clinics. I experience vicariously the frustration and disappointment of clinicians who wish only to alleviate suffering and the joy of finding a novel solution with a fellow student from the other side of the globe.

Knowledge can only go so far

We are privileged in the UK that palliative care is well integrated into our health systems. Many of my students come from places where palliative care is simply unavailable to most patients. I soon realized that while the Internet is a great tool to connect people, the impact of teaching pain management and symptom control is of little use if the medicines and workforce are not there.

Passion needs empowerment

Passion to make things better is always present in our shared and virtual learning spaces, whatever the time zone, but I know that teaching alone is not enough. I have to empower my students to be agents of change in their own corners of the world, and to do that I must be an advocate myself. In this regard, I am learning from the best at IAHPC through our advocacy course and by representing palliative care at high-level events, such as the recent World Health Assembly. My new mission is to translate this to my teaching.

I have learned so much about the world and about myself through the many windows my students have offered me. Learning advocacy skills through IAHPC has turned these windows into doors to a better future where palliative care is available for everyone. My purpose is to hold these doors open for others.

Read Victoria Hewitt's bio.

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