Module 1: Introduction

1.1 Course welcome

Welcome to this course about Prolonged Disorders of Consciousness.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course you will be able to:

  • define ‘Prolonged Disorders of Consciousness’ [PDoC]
  • outline diagnostic distinctions within the category of PDoC
  • critique common confusions between coma, vegetative and minimally conscious states
  • list the types of behaviours a patient may demonstrate without this being clear evidence of awareness
  • use this knowledge to help avoid misinterpretations about the patient’s state
  • describe the changing demographics of PDoC patients and identify some variations in different countries
  • reflect on your use of different terminology and engage with debates about the role of modern medicine and how we think about PDoC
  • identify where to access relevant UK guidelines

This course will take between 3 to 4 hours depending on your level of engagement with each module.

Course schedule

Each of our courses are open for a month or two (as advertised) after launch. This means that you can work your way through the learning at any point during that time that suits you. Some people work through an entire course all in one day, others prefer to do 20 minutes at a time here and there over several weeks. It is good to try to complete the course within a fortnight of launch because that is often when there is lively discussion in the online ‘chat’ sections (see next unit: “Connecting Learners”)

Occasionally a ‘bonus’ live discussion session is organised on Zoom to allow learners to network and talk with one another (and do a Q&A with the tutors).  That is ‘live’ and synchronous (and is not recorded) . If we organise such an event you’ll find all the details about when it is, and how to join,  under “Connecting Learners” (unit 1.2).  We hope you can join in with this, but it is not an essential part of the course.

Navigating the course materials

The course consists of a number of modules; these are listed in the course navigation bar (often displayed in the top right of your computer screen, or at the bottom of the unit if you are viewing this on a phone). Each module contains several short units of learning, bite-size chunks to allow for flexible study. Most units can be completed in under 20 minutes.

  • You usually won’t be able to actually go to a unit until you’ve pressed the ‘Mark as Completed’ button on the preceding units. This is because the units are designed to be done in order, but if you want to jump around a bit you can always ‘cheat’ by marking units as completed before you’ve actually completed them!
  • Click on the module titles now to reveal the titles of the units and get an impression of the overall course contents.
Continuing Professional Development

Throughout all our course you’ll be invited to complete quizzes, make your own notes on particular questions and carry out some reflective exercises for your learning portfolio. Set yourself up now with a notebook or a folder on your computer to store your reflections as you work through the materials.

Our courses also involve listening to short lectures and films clips, so you’ll need to keep your headphones to hand if you’re planning on doing some study on public transport or in other shared space.

Assessment and certification

Our online courses are designed so they can be completed via self-assessment with quizzes and self-reflection. A certificate of completion is generated automatically and can be downloaded for your CPD portfolio once you’ve ticked off all the units.

Your first activity

Your very first task before you read any further is:

a) Bookmark on your computer, and your phone too, so you can always find it.

b) Note whether you registered with us using your work or your home email.

b) Do you know your password for your student account with us? If so save it on your computer/phone now, write it down or email yourself.

c) If you don’t know your password use the email address you registered with to try logging in and then go through the automatic lost password process. 

Good, now that you have secured access – read on to learn a bit about the background to this course.

Course development

The course has been developed by a team from the Coma and Disorders of Consciousness Research Centre at Cardiff University and includes input from leading experts in the field, frontline staff and families with relatives in vegetative or minimally conscious states. You’ll be able to hear from all these people in the short film clips throughout the course. The team will guide you through the learning materials, popping up now and again, in avatar form, to ask questions or provide comments (or sometimes engaging in dialogue with each other, reflecting different perspectives).

Meet the team

In the next unit you will be invited to introduce yourself. But before that, meet the team who developed the course.

Jenny Kitzinger

Now, click on the sound bar to listen to Jenny Kitzinger introduce the team (or you can just read the mini-biographies below)

I’m Professor Jenny Kitzinger. I’m a social anthropologist and Professor of Communications Research at Cardiff University. I served on the Royal College of Physicians working party which produced guidelines on the management of patients in Prolonged Disorders of Consciousness. Together with Professor Celia Kitzinger, I co-direct the Coma and Disorders of Consciousness Research Centre. We’ve spent over ten years studying what happens to PDoC patients and interviewed over 100 family members and dozens of health care professionals too. This research and guideline development work underpins the learning you are about to do.


Professor Jenny Kitzinger

I’m Professor Celia Kitzinger an academic psychologist and Honorary Professor in the School of Law and Politics at Cardiff. As well as co-directing the CDoC Research Centre with Jenny, I also co-run a project looking at best interests decision-making for a wide range of people who lack capacity to make decisions e.g  about where they live and what medical treatments they have. I served on the BMA working party on the use of feeding tubes for patients who lack capacity to consent. As well as doing research in this area Jenny and I have family experience: our sister, Polly, was in a car crash in 2009. She emerged from a minimally conscious state after about two years, but remains in need of 24/7 care, unable to make her own choices about key areas of her life.


Professor Celia Kitzinger

Hi, I’m Dr Julie Latchem-Hastings, I’m a social science researcher and a neurological physiotherapist by background. I’ve worked in the NHS and Independent Sector supporting people with neurological conditions, including those with PDoC. My PhD focused on how we think about the future of people with brain injury and involved detailed observations  in neurological rehabilitation units. I worked in Cardiff University’s Centre for Trials Research in the area of neurological rehabilitation. I then moved to the School of Health Sciences.


Dr Julie Latchem-Hastings

Hello, I’m Dr Geraldine Latchem-Hastings, a physiotherapists by backgroundI am a Senior Lecturer in physiotherapy education, with over 17 years experience as an academic and a lot of experience of  curricula development, assessment, quality assurance and programme validation and the delivery of research-led CPD programmes and courses. I work in the School of Health Care Sciences at Cardiff University and I’m passionate about interprofessional education and digital learning. I have a doctorate in philosophy and law and my main research area is in the application of ethics within healthcare practice.


Dr Geraldine Latchem-Hastings

For this initiative we partnered with Liz Fahy, from GeckoSurfing, who works with academics & self-employed professionals to develop online learning. Liz runs a website design business and is the educational technologist for CDoCTraining. She is an experienced teacher and, for many years, ran a not-for-profit training organisation widening opportunities for women going back into education and employment.

Between the five of us, collectively, we have over 60 years experience of teaching and designing and delivering training. We hope that experience shows in the course you are about to do!

Now mark this unit as ‘complete’ by clicking the green button (bottom right). This will then allow you to move to the ‘Next Unit’ by clicking the purple button that appears at the bottom.

In the next unit you will have the opportunity to introduce yourself and ‘meet’ others doing the course.