Since the beginning of the recorded history of medicine during the time of Hippocrates in ancient Greece, there have been two overall goals of medical care: cure of disease and relief of suffering.

The relative emphasis on cure versus relief of suffering relates to both the underlying medical condition and the overall goals of the person who has the illness.

In the past 50 years, the relief of suffering as a goal of medical care was subjugated or lost in many settings in the quest to achieve cure and/or prolongation of life. In this model, the patient dies in spite of aggressive attempts to cure and prolong life. If the patient suffers, or if there can be no cure, well, it’s not the doctor’s fault.

Yet, who wants to suffer? Who wants to be a patient in an intensive care unit where one intensivist knows how to relieve the pain and suffering associated with being very sick, and the next one doesn’t?

Because suffering is experienced by persons, its existence, character and criteria for relief is defined by the patient rather than by the physician. Suffering is caused by many factors that are rarely limited to the physical domain.

In providing whole person care to relieve suffering, palliative care addresses all dimensions of the human experience of illness that may be involved: physical, psychological, social and spiritual.

Palliative medicine is the fast growing new medical subspecialty that concerns itself with the relief of suffering. Quality-of-life — rather than quantity-of-life — is the chief aim of those engaged in the delivery of palliative care.

Known for providing comprehensive hospice care since 1977, San Diego Hospice and The Institute for Palliative Medicine has evolved in to one of the 10 largest community-owned, not-for-profit hospices in the United States, with the largest resource in the world for training palliative medicine physicians and other specialists.

Right here in San Diego, physicians from around the world participate in one of the most rigorous, cutting edge courses of study to learn new specialist skills, typically with a goal of pursuing a long-term career as a clinician or academician in palliative medicine. Training of physicians and healthcare professionals in the advances in this field is leading towards better care for patients and families. We are literally changing the way healthcare is practiced locally, nationally and globally. Learn more about it here.

— Charles von Gunten, M.D., Ph.D.

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