I did not have many expectations going into the hospice experience, as I had no prior experience in the process during either my personal life or my medical training. I did, however, expect it to be a solemn experience, since it is, after all, an acceptance of the futility of life-prolonging treatment and the patient’s impending death. To this point in medical school, we have focused primarily on therapies that “cure” diseases and prolong life, so the idea of treating symptoms only was an unfamiliar one to me. I was surprised to see that this form of healthcare has such a profound effect on the well-being of patients and that it is appreciated as much as any other therapy in medicine.
At the hospice home, I was impressed by the collaboration between the various different parties involved – nurses, nutritionists, social workers, CNAs, doctors, nurse practitioners, volunteers, and chaplains. The range of disciplines involved in the care of these patients is as broad as that in any other field of medicine. Death and the act of dying is a complicated process that involves caring for the patient’s physical, emotional, and spiritual health, as well as that of those of the family, and I was surprised by how comprehensive care plans are in the hospice home. There are many potential problems that arise among the patients and their families, and I was impressed by how graciously and effectively the staff addresses these issues.
Hospice makes very clear the fact that medicine’s aim to minimize suffering and maximize quality of life is just as important as its aim to cure disease and prolong life. In these patients, the balance tips more toward the former, and in that respect, it is not an admission of the “failure” of medicine, but a judicious and humane redirecting of medical resources toward a dignified end of life.
-UNC Medical Student