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Palliative Care: Supporting Patients Living with Serious Illness

Understand how serious illnesses affect emotional and spiritual wellbeing, and develop skills for work in palliative care.

Image of a human hand holding a patient's wrist with a hospital band.

Palliative Care: Supporting Patients Living with Serious Illness

  • 5 weeks

  • 3 hours per week

  • Digital certificate when eligible

  • Open level

Find out more about how to join this course

Support the seriously ill with the University of Colorado

Palliative care provides important support for people living with serious or life-limiting illnesses and their family caregivers.

On this five-week course, you’ll learn how illnesses affect the emotional and spiritual wellbeing of the seriously ill and their families. One of a series on palliative care from the University of Colorado, the course will provide the understanding you need to support and empathise with those in your care.

Explore forms and causes of suffering and distress

There are many sources of suffering for those living with a life-limiting illness: adjusting to a “new normal” that revolves around illness, the pressure placed on friends, families, and support systems, the stress of a future that is unknown.

You’ll start the course by exploring forms, causes, and ways of expressing suffering and distress. Learning from real-world case studies from palliative care patients, you’ll develop your ability to empathise with the experience of the seriously ill.

Develop communication skills for palliative care

The second phase of the course is focused on honing your communication skills for interactions with patients and family caregivers.

You’ll discover concrete strategies for sharing bad news with patients and families, or for responding to their emotional responses and distress

Reflect on the importance of self-awareness in palliative care

The last week of the course introduces the role self-awareness plays in providing palliative care that respects the values and beliefs of seriously ill people.

You’ll be encouraged to reflect on your own values and beliefs around health, illness, and dying to minimise the potential of imposing these beliefs on others.

With the understanding you develop through the course, you’ll be better equipped to support those in your care.


  • Week 1

    Welcome To Palliative Care. We start with Suffering.

    • Welcome to Palliative Care

      Welcome to the first course of Palliative Care. Here, you will learn core concepts and basic communication skills.

    • Are You Suffering?

      In this activity, you will learn about the concept of suffering.

    • Core Values Defined

      Here, we'll define core values and why they are important to recognize in palliative care.

    • Understanding Suffering and Empathy

      In the health care setting, suffering is the integrated multi-dimensional experience unique to a specific individual living with serious and often life limiting illness.

    • Palliative Care Definition

      Learn about what Palliative Care is.

    • Talking to Patients About Their Illness Experiences

      A key skill to learn is to let the patient and family caregiver share their story about their illness.

    • Nature of Suffering Evaluation

      In this activity, you will be learning about the Nature of Suffering Evaluation and to begin the process of developing an empathic understanding of a person's illness.

    • Ollie Green Q&A

      To complete the nature of suffering evaluation form, please use the information from Ollie Green's case story.

    • What Have We Learned So Far?

      This week, we've learned how complex the concept of suffering really is. Next, you'll learn ways to be more comfortable talking about serious illness.

  • Week 2


    • SNAP

      This week, you'll learn about an easy to remember way to effectively engage people in conversations about their values and beliefs: SNAP.

  • Week 3

    Communication in Palliative Care

    • Introduction to Communications

      In this activity, learn the importance of communication in palliative care.

    • Feeling Heard and Understood

      Feeling heard and understood is a quality measure endorsed by Palliative Care Initiative, measuring what matters. Patients hope and look for empathic connections with providers that will lead to compassionate care.

    • Transmission and Transactional Style of Communications

      Now, we will review the difference between transmission and transactional styles of communication. Both are helpful in supporting patients and families living with serious illness.

    • Understanding Severity of an Illness

      When patients feel heard and understood, our support becomes more effective. Learn more about understanding the severity of an illness.

    • Tips for Better Communications

      In this activity, we will learn about the first of three different protocols: CLASS.

    • Sharing Bad News

      Naturally, sharing bad news can be upsetting and uncomfortable. Here, we will learn how to share bad news in a supportive way.

    • SPIKES

      In this activity, we will learn about the second of three different protocols: SPIKES.

    • NURSE

      In this activity, we will learn about the third of three different protocols: NURSE.

    • Communication Skills in Palliative Care Assessment

      In this activity, we will test your learning in the Communication Skills in Palliative Care Assessment.

  • Week 4

    Effective Palliative Care Begins with Self-Awareness

    • Introduction to Self-Awareness

      In this activity, learn why great palliative care depends on the provider's self-awareness.

    • Reflecting on Values and Beliefs

      Here, we will reflect on your values and beliefs and how they impact palliative care.

    • I'm Not a Judgmental Person!

      In this activity, we will identify ways we may judge or distance ourselves from others when our values and beliefs are different.

  • Week 5

    Whole Person Assessment

    • Whole Person Assessment

      In this activity, we will discuss assessing the full dimension of the seriously ill person.

    • Getting the Care One Wants

      Let's discuss how to offer care the patient wants.

    • Whole Person Summative Assessment

      Reflect on your learning through the Whole Person Summative Assessment.

When would you like to start?

Start straight away and join a global classroom of learners. If the course hasn’t started yet you’ll see the future date listed below.

  • Available now

Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Interpret the experience of serious illness and the many aspects of suffering and distress. These are the first steps in supporting and addressing the sources of suffering.
  • Apply the knowledge to provide primary palliative care to all and identify individuals that need specialist palliative care.
  • Develop a working definition of suffering and understand the four areas that make each individual's experience unique.
  • Develop a definition of therapeutic communications in healthcare and apply to your own patient/family caregiver interactions.
  • Apply the SPIKES model in your own work when you need to share bad news with patients and families.
  • Use the NURSE model to respond to patient/family caregiver emotional responses and distress.
  • Interpret the components of the palliative care whole person assessment.

Who is the course for?

This course is primarily designed for healthcare providers working with seriously ill patients and their families. This includes nurses, doctors, pharmacists, and allied health professionals (e.g. social workers, spiritual care providers, mental health professionals, therapists).

It will also be valuable for families, friends, and communities supporting the seriously ill.

Who will you learn with?

Who developed the course?

University of Colorado

The University of Colorado is a recognized leader in higher education on the national and global stage. We collaborate to meet the diverse needs of our students and communities. We promote innovation, encourage discovery and support the extension of knowledge in ways unique to the state of Colorado and beyond.

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Ways to learn

Choose the best way to learn for you!

Buy this course

$134/one-off payment

Fulfill your current learning need

  • Access to this course
  • Learn at your own pace
  • Discuss your learning in comments
  • Printed and digital certificate when you’re eligible

Subscribe & save

$349.99 for one year

Automatically renews

Develop skills to further your career

  • Access to this course
  • Access to 1,000+ courses
  • Learn at your own pace
  • Discuss your learning in comments
  • Digital certificate when you're eligible

Cancel for free anytime

Limited access


Sample the course materials

  • Access expires 25 Aug 2024

Find out more about certificates, Unlimited or buying a course (Upgrades)

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