Lessons from AscendHospice

Coming into this program with no previous experience working in hospice or even volunteering in a hospital, I naturally felt quite hesitant and uncertain. My prior interactions with patients were very limited in scope and although I felt rather unprepared, I was very eager to learn more. I wanted to build on my ability to connect with the patients and provide a comforting environment. Before any patient visits started, I had a very systematic and rigid understanding of how a hospice visit should proceed and what my end goal was, but that was changed almost immediately upon meeting the patients.

I think one of the most important lessons I learned during my time in this program was the power of presence. Not the best conversationalist, I was worried about how I would be able to spend time with the patient. Would I be too robotic? Would I be able to make a meaningful connection and provide the social companionship needed?

When my first day of visits rolled around, I wasn’t sure what to expect. My patient did not talk much at all, and near the end of the hour, I was feeling rather discouraged. Then, an idea hit me when I recalled that when first introduced, she was asking for a CD player, but it was broken. I pulled out my phone and asked her if she wanted to listen to some music. Her face immediately lit up, and I knew I had made a breakthrough. From then on, she progressively opened up more, and I did not need filler questions to drive conversation.

My misconception was that I needed to fill the silence, but in reality what was more important than constantly asking questions or talking, was simply being attentive. Just my presence was comforting enough and I could build a connection to the patient though other mediums than purely conversation. Visits, and general human interactions, are never meant to follow the script. I learned to accept that there are so many different ways a situation can progress and to simply do my best to adapt to the patient I am interacting with.

My hospice experience has definitely impacted my view of medicine in general. Often times doctors are so focused with curing the disease or fixing the problem that they don’t take the time to understand the patient as a person. One thing I hope to apply to the way I approach medicine is to remind myself to not give up if there are some things I cannot do for the patient, but instead to turn my focus to being someone supportive who may not fully understand the pain or hardships but is willing to help in any way I can. Just having someone next to them to listen and be fully invested in their interests is just as important as having being diagnosed and undergoing treatments. As I continue my journey to become a doctor, I want to remember and apply the experience I gained during my time working with hospice patients.