Science & Research

Dr. Harvey Max Chochinov

Winnipeg Health Region
Wave, November / December 2012

No one would question the common sense of treating patients with kindness and dignity. But the question of just how compassion can enhance experience in the health-care system has been difficult to answer.

That is until Dr. Harvey Max Chochinov, the only Canada Research Chair in Palliative Care and one of the world's top experts in palliative care, started to answer the question almost 20 years ago.

"We began looking at psychological issues and the experiential landscape of end-of-life," says the Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry at University of Manitoba's Faculty of Medicine.

His team's research shone a light on the need for a holistic approach to health care that addresses the physical, psychological, spiritual and existential needs of patients. His findings have changed the way the medical community cares for patients who are dying, while also enhancing the quality of care for all patients. The Canadian Medical Association recognized his achievements this year by bestowing its highest honour, the F.N.G. Starr Award.

"We all ascribe to the idea that we ought to be providing patients and their families care that is mindful of preserving dignity," says Chochinov, Director of the Manitoba Palliative Care Research Unit with CancerCare Manitoba. "Our research focused an empirical lens on this issue, examining exactly what it means to patients and how it might be achieved within our system of health care."

Thanks to his research, dignity has become a central part of palliative care. His research team developed "Dignity Therapy," a psychological intervention for patients facing the end of their lives that allows them to discuss their thoughts about the life they've lived. This approach has been studied and adapted by many palliative care programs around the world. "It allows patients to leave a legacy, while enhancing their own quality of life and providing comfort for those left to grieve their passing."

Perhaps more than any accomplishment, Chochinov says he hopes his work has provided evidence that compassion and respect are foundational to quality medical care. And when patients are nearing the end, Chochinov reminds us that, "while dying is inevitable, dying poorly ought not to be."

Wave: November / December 2012

About Wave

Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.

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