Transitions LifeCare hosts medical students for two days as part of their internal medicine rotation, during which they spend time in our inpatient hospice home, as well as in the field with one of our hospice and palliative care nurse practitioners. Exposure to hospice and palliative care early on in a burgeoning physician’s career can make a huge impact on their knowledge and perspective as they move forward. What follows are some of the student’s reflections on their time spent in hospice and palliative care:

On witnessing the weekly memorial service at the Hospice Home:

It was a beautiful, emotional experience that nearly moved me to tears despite not knowing any of the patients or the staff there who had cared for them.  Staff and patients’ families had been invited to write notes about the patients and choose a stone from a large vase that somehow represented them.  Each staff member chose a patient or two and read the notes written about them, and then returned the chosen stone or stones to the vase with a ritual intonation that they honored and remembered the patient by name, and then the facility chaplain spoke briefly.  It was, simply put, sacred.  Holy.

I was struck by how personal the notes were from the staff members. They weren’t talking about how well the patient’s symptoms had been managed, but rather their life stories, interests, values, and desires; highlighting the value of a holistic approach to medicine. It was evident that the families who attended thought the world of the nurses and that the nurses had thought the world of the patients for [whom] they cared.

I was moved by words of family members at the ceremony that expressed true and unadulterated gratitude for the meaningful care that their loved ones and family members received. This was a poignant reminder that suffering and healing is more than presence or absence of disease.

On coming to a personal understanding of hospice:

My grandfather was in hospice when I was in high school but I never saw him there as I lived many states away and frankly was years away from really understanding the concept and value of hospice care. But now I understand why, when my mom went to visit him, she left our house feeling so distraught and returned feeling at peace.  With hospice care, the questions of whether a person is comfortable, content, lonely, or scared as they pass away just simply aren’t there.  Patients and families are able to experience end of life the way they want and it is truly a beautiful aspect of medicine.

I have a new appreciation for what these physicians, nurses, social workers, chaplains, and PT/OTs do on a daily basis and I am thankful for their work. This experience has certainly helped me shed some of the negative connotations I associate with death and dying and will make me a better physician as I start to care for my own patients who are entering this phase of life.

We are thankful for the opportunity to participate in the education of these physicians in training and are hopeful that these experiences will shape their future practice of medicine.

-by Dr. Laura Patel, Medical Director