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Meet Palliative Care Australia’s new President, Dr Jane Fischer

Dr Jane Fischer was recently elected as President of the Palliative Care Australia Board. The CEO of Calvary Health Care Bethlehem explains where her passion for palliative care stemmed from and how it became the focus of her career.

I first became involved in palliative care in 1988 having returned to Australia after two years working in the UK. I was starting work in general practice and was inspired by a fellow GP who had been working part-time in palliative care and found it to be rewarding and complimented by general practice.

My husband and I moved with our young family to a remote rural area for a different work experience. I worked part-time as a GP and palliative care was my area of special interest. As we became part of that community and got to know the region more broadly, it was evident that local people didn’t have the same choices or access to palliative care services as those living in the city and there were a lot of unmet needs.

Working in collaboration with other health professionals and services, I started to develop a framework for the region to improve options for people at the end of life. So began my interest in service development, developing innovative models of care, workforce education and community awareness, which continues to this day. 

I haven’t worked as a GP for more than 15 years, but what I learnt from palliative care has made me a better doctor and a better person. Palliative care has taught me the value of a holistic approach and the importance of good communication skills. The ability to connect with people and find out what is important to them is key to maximising their quality of life and ensuring they have a sense of control as they approach the end of their life.

We moved to Melbourne in 2001 which provided me with the opportunity to work full-time as a palliative medical specialist. I had become passionate about palliative care and I knew this was an area where I could make a difference to people’s lives. 

I was also interested in the bigger picture and so spent nine years on the Board of Palliative Care Victoria (PCV), including six years as Chair. PCV focused on state-based issues but in my role as Chair I was also exposed to the work of Palliative Care Australia (PCA). At the same time, my work was shifting from a clinical perspective to developing a role on the Executive of Calvary Health Care Bethlehem. I have now been CEO of this organisation for the past eight years.  

Being elected to the Board of PCA in 2013 was an opportunity to be involved with likeminded individuals from a range of backgrounds with different perspectives. All are passionate about advocating at a national level for quality palliative care for all.

Having worked in palliative care for nearly 30 years, I have seen firsthand the difference that palliative care makes to people and their families. But I think that as a society we are still not openly discussing death and dying. Not everyone in our community has access to the services they need as they approach the end of their life; nor are they are aware of what palliative care services can deliver. At PCA, we are striving to address this.

As PCA President, I am looking forward to working with the other Board members and staff, and in collaboration with other peak bodies and the broader community. I believe that together we can advocate for better services and influence how, as a society, we wish to care for people at the end of their lives. Ideally, that care will ensure that people live as well as possible, and that they feel valued and supported by their family, friends and local community.


Comments

  • I am so impressed, I wish I can meet with you before going back to my country next year. Palliative care nursing taught me to be a better listener and gave me strength to provide all that I can to help palliative care clients and their family.

    - Wedad Alharbi
  • Congratulations on your election to president of the Palliatice Care Australia Board. As an interested Canadian from Victoria, BC, I am wondering if you have evolved the definition/mission of palliative care from the Cicely Saunders model: Neither hasten death nor prolong life to something that supports a patient's choice of a hastened medically-assisted death when this becomes a legal option in your various states. Canada has had law C-14 since JUN 2016 and as of the moment about 2% of deaths in the region around Victoria are by MAiD. In hospice palliative care, MAiD is provided usually by outside physicians as there remains a reticence for PC MDs to get involved. I am wondering how Australia is handling this with your new laws on the horizon. Thank you!

    - Jeffrey Brooks

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