Optimising medical outcomes for patients undergoing appearance altering procedures via innovative training of health care professionals

There is a substantial need for the development of high quality work-based VET in the healthcare sector specialising in the care of patients undergoing appearance altering procedures that results in scarring and body form changes such as cancer, burns, limb loss, mastectomy, plastic surgery and birth defects. As the patients undergo treatment, many have difficult time to deal with their altered appearance or they have unrealistic expectation of the treatment. At the same time, health care professionals do not have the knowledge. A study that surveyed 718 health workers in Europe found that 87% wanted to know more about how to support their patients and 70% wanted to attend an accredited course to address knowledge and skill deficits (Williamson et al., 2017).

This proposal is also a direct outcome of the COST Action IS1210 network supported by the EU Framework Programme Horizon 2020. Members from the 34 countries involved in this network have concluded that it is paramount to train healthcare professionals in the psychological and psychiatric aspects of care are crucial for the individuals undergoing appearance altering procedures. In particular, feedback from health professionals in Norway, Bulgaria, Italy, Romania, and Sweden acknowledge that they do not have the right skills to address with the psychological and/or psychiatric consequences. In many cases, they report that individuals with these problems isolate themselves from society resulting in unemployment and/or poor physical and psychological health. The health care professionals report that they feel inadequate equipped to support their patients, they also experience increased stress and frustration. Extensive research documents the significant negative impacts of disfigurement and of appearance altering treatment has further indicated that staff report having insufficient time and little confidence in meeting these patients’ information and support needs (Persson et al 2008; Konradsen et al 2009).  Research by Clarke & Cooper (2001) has shown in addition, although health professionals do not feel as skilled in delivering psychosocial support to patients that they can very easily take on this role when given simple training and access to appropriate resources.

The need for ongoing training and development of healthcare professionals is highlighted in the Directive 2013/55/EU “Member States shall ensure, by encouraging continuous professional development, that health professionals are able to update their knowledge to maintain safe and effective practice”.

By having a consortium of public health, psychology and pedagogical experts in vocational training in accordance to the EQF, ECVET and EQAVET frameworks together with hospitals and NGOs that work directly with individuals undergoing appearance altering procedures, we have ensured that a functional training program can be delivered as the results of the proposed program of work.

The training course will be in modular form and will be piloted on 60– 80 health professionals in the following partners' countries (NO, BG, IT, RO) in order to ensure the effectiveness and cultural adaptation.

The outcome will be a functional continuing education and training package for healthcare professionals who currently have limited or no access to psychological expertise about the psychiatric and psychosocial variables that are associated with disfigurement and appearance altering procedures. As indicated, this issue is a European wide problem and by utilizing a transnational project approach we will be able to generate training materials that function effectively in the context of European diversity in social and cultural aspects. By increasing knowledge and awareness of the negative impacts of appearance-related distress amongst partners and their networks, the project will also promote a broader social dialogue about the need to promote positive attitudes towards diversity in appearance, thus enhancing the future social integration of those who are affected by disfigurement – particularly those with additional risk factors for discrimination, including migrants, refugees and those from other socially disadvantaged groups. The developed material will include training about equity, diversity and inclusion in order to combative segregation and discrimination. The longer-term benefits will be a rapid enhancement of service provision and to the quality of psychological care offered to patients undergoing appearance altering procedures via a succinct and economically viable training module. All the material developed is open resource and available to download at the website of the project. The dissemination and sustainability plan ensure that a wide group of healthcare professionals across Europe will be reached. If we just calculate the impact from the partners in this project, it equals approximately that at least 2500 patients per year will benefit across Europe from the enhance provision of care.