The American Cancer Society recognizes each year a Pathfinder in Palliative Care, someone who demonstrates innovation and ingenuity and contributes to the advancement of palliative care nationally and globally.
The 2018 recipient is University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Nursing Marie L. O’Koren Endowed Chair in Nursing and Professor Marie Bakitas, DNSc, CRNP, NP-C, AOCN, ACHPN, FAAN. She was presented the award during the National Palliative Care Research Center’s annual Kathleen Foley Palliative Care Retreat and Research Symposium in October. This prestigious award was established in 2009 to acknowledge those leading the way in palliative care research.
In addition to her faculty appointment in the School Bakitas co-leads the UAB Center for Palliative and Supportive Care with Professor of Medicine Rodney Tucker, MD, MMM, FAAHPM. She also holds a secondary faculty appointment in the School of Medicine and is a senior scientist in the UAB Comprehensive Center for Aging, Comprehensive Cancer Center and Center for Study of Community Health.
Bakitas’ early telehealth palliative care model ENABLE (Educate, Nurture, Advise, Before Life Ends), which utilizes a nurse coach to provide patients and family caregivers with information and skills training on symptom control, communication, medical decision making and advance care planning, was the first to demonstrate that palliative care can lead to improved quality of life, mood and in some cases patient survival. This intervention is now being translated in multiple diseases and multiple countries, thus impacting practice and policy.
She is internationally recognized as a clinical researcher and leader in palliative care, and her program of research focuses on reducing suffering and enhancing quality of life for individuals with advanced illness and their family caregivers, especially in underserved and rural populations.
“My work centers on finding ways to make early palliative care acceptable and accessible through telehealth and community or culturally-based care,” said Bakitas. “Most palliative care services are concentrated in academic health centers, and it’s not accessible to people in rural communities. Through telehealth and other means, we can reduce health disparities for individuals with advanced illness and move toward equitable access to palliative care for underserved populations.”
Bakitas joined UAB in 2013, moving from the Northeastern United States where palliative care is much more accessible. In comparison, Alabama and Mississippi have the lowest palliative access care rates in the country, and Bakitas said coming to the area was an opportunity to make a large impact.
“That’s one of the reasons I moved to the South, to focus on bringing early palliative care to people that do not have access,” Bakitas said. “I came here because of the challenge and because it’s an area where even small strides can make a difference.”
Through the School of Nursing and Center for Palliative and Supportive Care, UAB expands its palliative care research, developing the projects and people with a passion for palliative care. Palliative care is the work of an interdisciplinary team and receiving the Pathfinder Award recognizes the impact of UAB’s interprofessional team, Bakitas said.
“I work with other palliative care leaders, researchers, educators and clinicians to develop the projects and people interested in solving the problem of palliative care access. Through the School of Nursing and Center for Palliative and Supportive Care, I’ve worked to have UAB be recognized as one of the top programs in palliative care research,” Bakitas said. “Receiving this award is a validation of the work we’re doing and the impact it is making.”