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Insights Into Cancer – May 14, 2019

Palliative Medicine and the Power of Language and Story

Presented by Sunita Puri, MD

About the Lecture

As a physician and the daughter of a physician Dr. Sunita Puri witnessed the tension between medicine’s impulse to preserve life at all costs and a spiritual embrace of life’s temporality. And it was that tension that eventually drew Puri, a passionate but unsatisfied medical student, to palliative medicine – a new specialty attempting to translate the border between medical intervention and quality-of-life care.

Palliative care is a multidisciplinary approach to specialized medical and nursing care for people with life-limiting illnesses. It focuses on providing relief from the symptoms, pain, physical stress, and mental stress at any stage of illness. It has been shown to improve the quality of life for both the patient and their family. It is appropriate at any age and at any stage in a serious illness and can be provided as the main goal of care or along with curative treatment. Although it is an important part of end-of-life care, it is not limited to that stage. Palliative care helps people and their families clarify their goals of care and provides symptom management, psycho-social, and spiritual support.

Dr. Puri is the author of the memoir That Good Night: Life and Medicine in the Eleventh Hour (Viking/Penguin). Literature and stories are incredibly powerful tools to examine, express and share the experience of serious illness. Using stories from her book, her clinical practice, and audience members themselves, Dr. Puri will discuss the role that palliative medicine can play in easing patients’ suffering, promoting resilience, and helping to define and strive for quality of life when journeying with cancer. She will also offer useful language to inspire discussions between patients and health care providers about what matters most to us when we live with cancer, and what it means to live a good life through our final days.

Her book is available here: That Good Night by Sunita Puri

About the Speaker

Sunita Puri, MD is the Medical Director of the Palliative Medicine and Supportive Care Service at the Keck Hospital and Norris Cancer Center of the University of Southern California, where she also serves as Chair of the Ethics Committee. She graduated from Yale University with a B.A. in Anthropology and studied Modern History at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. She completed medical school and residency training in Internal Medicine at the University of California San Francisco, and fellowship training in Hospice and Palliative Medicine at Stanford University. In 2018, she received the Etz Chaim Tree of Life Award from the USC Keck School of Medicine, awarded annually to a member of the faculty who, in the eyes of the campus community, models and provides humanistic and compassionate care.

As a clinician-educator, Dr. Puri believes that teaching primary palliative medicine across medical disciplines and to all levels of trainees is essential to meet the growing need for palliative medicine in our country. She is committed to developing creative approaches to teaching advanced communication skills and symptom management. In her clinical practice, she has a particular interest in palliative medicine for cardiac, surgical and ICU patients, and in developing educational curricula for surgeons and cardiologists on the earlier integration of palliative medicine into their patients’ care. Dr. Puri’s research and teaching interests also include clinical ethics. She is a member of Keck Hospital’s Ethics Committee and the Humanities and Ethics Curriculum Committee for the medical school. She teaches Advanced Clinical Ethics; to second-year medical students at the Keck School of Medicine. Dr. Puri also writes creative nonfiction and her work has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, the Journal of the American Medical Association, and JAMA – Internal Medicine.

She has just published her first book, That Good Night, a meditation on impermanence and the role of medicine in helping us to live and die well, arming readers with information that will transform how we communicate with our doctors about what matters most to us.

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