Sojourns Scholar Impact: Surgery and Palliative Care

Sojourns Scholar Impact: Conversations About Surgery and Palliative Care with Adults

This blog post is part of a series featuring the Cambia Health Foundation’s Sojourns Scholar Leadership Program. The initiative is designed to identify, cultivate and advance the next generation of palliative care leaders. The program includes physicians, nurses, social workers, physician assistants, chaplains, psychologists, pharmacists and other emerging health system leaders who are developing the field. The first two blog posts in this series focused on pediatric palliative care. The third and fourth blog posts examine physicians who are exploring surgery and palliative care in older adults.
Dr. Toby Campbell, MD, MSCI
  • University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health
  • Topic: A New Communication Model 
  • Goal: To assist surgeons and their patients, considering high-risk surgeries, make decisions that better reflect the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of that individual.
  • What is the focus of your Sojourns Scholar project?
  • Dr. Campbell: My team and I have developed an approach that enables clinicians to better communicate with patients and their families when discussing high-risk surgeries and palliative care options.  Physicians, like all of us, learned to talk at a very young age and changing how a person speaks later in life can often be difficult. When collecting feedback, surgeons told me that they normally used a “best/worst case” scenario when reviewing options with patients. Regrettably, this method, which most learned in medical school, does not allow for collaboration between doctor and patient or a thorough exploration of all the possibilities. My research indicates that the model we’ve designed changes the scenario and helps patients gain a better understanding of their situation. To highlight I created a YouTube video that demonstrates the approach we teach when having these difficult conversations.
What have you learned from the project that could help improve patient care?
Dr. Campbell: As clinicians, we strive for perfection. Unfortunately, altering the way we interact with patients is not an exact science. In addition, there is often a limited amount of time in which we can spend with each patient making the entire process extremely challenging. Using our approach clinicians can personalize their conversations and work together with the patient to ensure the decisions they make meet the needs of the whole person.
Did you encounter any unexpected outcomes or surprises? 
Dr. Campbell:  I wasn’t sure how other physicians would respond. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see how willing they were to improve their skills and commit to changing the way they communicate with their patients.
How do you feel you have changed as a leader in the field due to your experience in the Sojourns Scholar Leadership Program?
Dr. Campbell: I think more strategically about my decision-making and my ability to process situations.  Based on the people I have met and worked with in the program, I feel more empowered to approach challenging circumstances directly and with greater confidence. 
For example, I now lead my team through a core values exercise to identify potential opportunities. I also host team retreats every six months to discuss non-urgent topics and further develop our team chemistry.   
What do you attribute the change to?
Dr. Campbell:  My confidence as a team leader has grown because of my participation in the Sojourns Scholar program.  In addition, the ability to meet and learn from the other scholars has been very inspiring.