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Dr Karl Bitschnau

It was during my training as a social worker in 1983 that I first connected with the idea of the hospice movement. It took a few more years to get fully involved with the concept and with the struggle to transform it into services supporting the dying, the bereaved and their families. When I had the chance to take over responsibility for building up the hospice movement in Vorarlberg, the westernmost part of Austria, I gladly took it. My master’s thesis in palliative care was ‘The Inter-Profession – Social Work in Palliative Care’. My doctoral thesis was about transitions from hospice palliative care units to home care services.

It was an honour to have the opportunity to be an active part of building up hospice and palliative care structures – both locally and nationally. These have included: managing hospice and palliative care services, developing professional standards (especially for social workers), developing projects such as ‘Hospice culture and palliative care in nursing homes’, and sharing my knowledge, e.g. on the topics of social work, volunteering and palliative care in nursing homes.

I also had the opportunity to work as a social worker in a hospice palliative care team for more than six years. I’m currently employed at Caritas Vorarlberg and our services comprise six regional hospice teams and a children’s hospice team, a palliative home care team and an inpatient hospice unit. I’m a board member of Hospice Austria, the national Hospice organisation for more than two decades, and I have been Vice President of Hospice Austria for many years. As such, I’ve been involved both with policy and with the provision of palliative care in Austria. I also co-chair the European Association for Palliative Care Task Force for Palliative Care Social Workers.

I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of a Europe growing together, learning from each other yet preserving the huge cultural variety and richness that we can pride ourselves on. There is so much to learn, so much to develop, to ensure that care for the dying and bereaved people in our societies is continually improving. If elected to the board, I guess that’s where my contribution to the EAPC would be. And, of course, I’m willing to share what I’ve learned in the past 25 years in the field of hospice and palliative care.

At a personal level, I’m grateful to what my family has taught me. Bringing up three children, together with my wife, stimulated my growth and although challenging at times was a great joy. Now that the children all have their own lives, there is more time for hobbies like biking, playing music, going on vacation, spending more time with my wife, but also working as a volunteer chairman of a home care team.