A team of nurse researchers from Washington State University left for Thailand on New Year’s Day to join Thai colleagues in looking at the unique care provided to cancer patients at a temple there.
Assistant professors Andra Davis, of the College of Nursing in Vancouver, and Marian Wilson, of the College of Nursing in Spokane, are joined by faculty Dr. Dawn Doutrich and an international team of specialists.
Their destination is the Arokhayasala Khampramong Temple, which offers traditional and complementary interventions and palliative care for cancer patients.
It’s the latest in a series of exchanges between the WSU College of Nursing and nursing faculty at Chulalongkorn University, Thailand’s oldest and most prestigious university. The two schools signed a memorandum of understanding in 2016 to encourage research and educational collaboration.
The temple opened as a hospice and cancer-care facility in 2004 and has provided care for more than 5,000 patients since then, free of charge.
Patients are accompanied to the temple by a caregiver, usually a family member, who stays with them. They’re treated with herbal remedies and traditional medicine, but their care also includes easy exercises and movement, singing, meditation and discussion.
“It’s a combination of Buddhist philosophy and psychological support,” said Doutrich, who has been involved in several research studies centered on the temple and its work.
Though most patients will die, “there’s a joyfulness about the whole place,” created through ritual and ceremony and a sense of community, said Davis, who visited the temple in March as part of a research trip accompanied by two WSU PhD nursing students.
The WSU researchers believe there are elements of how care is provided at the temple that could be adapted to hospice care and palliative care in the United States.
For example, the ritual and community are integrated into the fabric of everyday care and life at the temple, which seems to play a role in a quality experience for patients, families and staff, Davis and Doutrich say. The care provided to patients extends to their caregivers and ceremonies bind the patients, caregivers and staff into a community. That sense of community helps prevent compassion fatigue and burnout among the healthcare staff – a major issue in hospice and palliative care.
As the WSU-led team learn from their Thai colleagues, they will also introduce aspects of palliative care to their Thai hosts.
Davis, Wilson and Sureeporn Thanasilp, associate professor at Chulalongkorn University, will provide palliative care education to graduate nursing students. Doutrich will give a seminar on qualitative methodology. Another team member, Enrico De Luca, PhD, of Sapienza University of Rome, will present workshops on the power of touch in health care. Patricia Repar, a professor in the departments of music and internal medicine at the University of New Mexico, will introduce self-care activities she has conducted internationally for over a decade. The team will also lead focus groups with university students at the temple.
Said Davis, “The long-term goal is to examine features from this community-based palliative care program that may have applicability in other settings.”
Said Doutrich of the lessons she’s learned at Arokhayasala Khampramong Temple, “You do come away feeling renewed as people are exiting the planet. There’s anguish and sadness involved with that, but there’s also support for allowing that to happen in a beautiful way.”