With the two weeks and counting to Annual Assembly we have a record number of pre-registrants all descending on the Hub. My HPNA co-chair and fellow Bay Stater, Pat Coyne, and I promise you a wicked good Assembly. We have a veritable smorgasbord planned and I’ve been given an opportunity in this blog to whet your appetite for the coming feast. Here I’ll focus on our plenary and Special Interest Group (SIG) Symposia.

First up, Thursday morning will be Lynne Hughes. Her plenary, “Comfort Zone Camp”, will focus on bereaved children. Inspired by her own experiences of loss as a child, Ms. Hughes is the founder of the Comfort Zone Camp (http://www.comfortzonecamp.org/), the largest bereavement camp for children in the nation. These camps offer a safe and healing bereavement experience for children that have lost a loved one. I’m particularly pleased that Ms. Hughes will be our opening plenary speaker, putting our focus from the start on the care of children. The clinical care of children will receive an unprecedented place of prominence at this year’s Assembly. This year’s new pediatric track will ensure that those that care for children will always have an educational opportunity focused on their needs throughout the Assembly.

Next up on Thursday, we are honored to have Roshi Joan Halifax of the Upaya Zen Center (http://www.upaya.org/about/index.php) speak on “Compassionate and Mindful End-of-Life Care: a Relational-Contemplative Approach for Clinicians.” Roshi Halifax is a Buddhist teacher, Zen priest, and anthropologist. She has worked with the dying and those who care for them for over 35 years. Take note that Roshi Halifax will also be teaming up with some very talented colleagues (Anthony Back, Susan Bauer-Wu, and Cynda Rushton) for an exceptional preconference workshop, “The Science and Practice of Contemplative Interventions for Palliative Care Clinicians” (P8).

Last year we introduced SIG Symposia as a new educational offering to bring special attention to our vibrant and varied SIGs. These symposia let our SIG members tackle weighty issues in a dynamic forum. They were so enthusiastically received last year that we are pleased to bring them back in force this year. We had a tremendous number of submissions from the SIGS and are pleased to offer the following choices on Thursday afternoon:

  • Fellowship Directors: “Peer Mentoring: An Innovative Model for Professional Advancement in Hospice and Palliative Medicine”
  • Physicians in Training: “Asking Tough Questions: Career Advice from the Experts”
  • Ethics: “Is It Time to Pull the Plug on the Principle of Double Effect?”
  • Ethics: “Palliative Medicine and Bioethics Interface: Collaboration and Cooperation or Codependency and Conflict”
  • Cancer: “What is ‘Palliative Chemotherapy?’ Perspectives from Oncology, Palliative Care, and Hospice”
  • Humanities: “Just Being: An Introduction to Mindfulness and Its Role in Tending to the Dying”
  • Pediatrics: “Decision-Making at the Extremes of Pediatric Palliative Care”
  • Long-Term Care: “Hospice and Non-Hospice Models of Palliative Care Delivery in Long-Term Care”
  • Osteopathic: “Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine in Palliative Care

If, like me, you haven’t figured out how to clone yourself to attend more than one of these great sessions, consider purchasing the audio recordings and/or flash drives of handouts. Both of these will again be available for purchase at the Assembly. I’ve found these items a great way to get the most out of the Assembly and not sweat it when there are two or more sessions I feel I just can’t miss. Which if we’ve done our job right, should be happening frequently!

On Friday morning we’ll be hearing from Deborah Grassman (http://deborahgrassman.com/) the Director of Hospice and Palliative Care at Bay Pines VA Medical Center during her plenary, “Wounded Warriors: Their Last Battle.” Ms. Grassman has been a hospice nurse for over 25 years in a VA hospital setting. Her new book, Peace at Last, has the goal of helping veterans, and those that care for them, to appreciate the impact of war and military culture on their living and their dying.

Do you worry about barriers to safe and effective pain management for your patients? How about the epidemic of prescription drug abuse in the US? The need to rationally balance concerns about both of these critical health care issues will be the topic of Dr. Aaron Gilson’s plenary, “A REMS for Long-Acting Opioid Analgesics: Anticipated Impact on the Dual Public Health Issues of Non-Medical Use and Patient Pain Care.” Dr. Gilson is the director of the US program of the Pain and Policy Studies Group at University of Wisconsin (http://www.painpolicy.wisc.edu/). He has dedicated his career to improving policies that affect pain management for people with cancer and other chronic conditions. Dr. Gilson’s perspective will be invaluable to all of us in hospice and palliative care. He is uniquely positioned at the forefront of this crucial area that has a direct impact on the care we provide.

On Saturday our plenary focus shifts to the science of what we do. Starting us off, once again, will be Drs. Nate Goldstein and Wendy Gabrielle Anderson. Our returning Dynamic Duo will present their “State of the Science” plenary. Don’t miss this opportunity to hear Nate and Wendy’s thoughtful interpretations of the latest research that may just change the way you provide care. Always an Assembly highlight, I’m absolutely delighted to have Nate and Wendy back this year.

Our closing plenaries on Saturday afternoon keep the focus on science. I’m ecstatic that Dr. Holly Prigerson of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (http://www.dfhcc.harvard.edu/membership/profile/member/38/0/), has agreed to join us to present her plenary on “End-of-Life Care as an Illusion—Wish Fulfillment: But Whose Wishes and Why?” I have to confess that when I look back over the last few years of research in our field, there is nobody I can name whose work has fascinated me more than Dr. Prigerson. The lessons her work teaches us about communication, coping and processes of care for the seriously ill and dying are profound.

Make sure your travel agent knows how essential it is for you to make it to our closing plenary. You won’t want to miss Dr. Jeannine Brant’s talk, “Strategies for Breathlessness at the End of Life.” Dr. Brant is an oncology clinical nurse specialist at the Billings Clinical Cancer Center as well as a master clinician and educator. She is just the person to update us on the science and best practices for managing dyspnea, arguably one of the most critical jobs we are called upon to do.

There you go. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on our plenaries and SIG symposia either here online or in Boston. Be there! Aloha.

Daniel Fischberg, MD, PhD

AAHPM Program Planning Committee Chair

The Queen’s Medical Center, Honolulu

The John A. Burns School of Medicine of the University of Hawaii