Reflection on Experience at Haverford Sunrise in Haverford, Pennsylvania

I thoroughly enjoyed my experience in the pre-med hospice volunteer program, and I am thankful for each of the interactions that I shared throughout the past year. I vividly remember one of my most impactful interactions. A fellow student and I were meeting with a husband and wife, and the husband was comforting his wife as she was approaching her final moments. While he was sitting beside her, holding her hand, we eased his mind by asking him questions about his interesting past. He spoke about his experience as a psychology professor and his fascination with the effect of the brain on human behavior, and I was able to empathize with him, as I am currently studying cognitive and behavioral neuroscience. Sharing memories temporarily freed him from the stressors of his situation. His positivity and enthusiasm were contagious, and I will never forget the soft smile that he gave while talking about his love for psychology. Listening to him filled my heart with joy. All I wanted was to protect him from the sorrow that was looming over him. His wife passed three days after our conversation. Though I am still heartbroken for him, I am grateful that we were able to give him the chance to express his feelings. Following the passing of his wife, we continued to offer him visits to provide emotional support.
Being a hospice volunteer has taught me how to compassionately communicate with residents and families. Visiting Haverford Sunrise has been an honor and a privilege. Entering hospice care is extremely vulnerable, and I am grateful that I was able to provide support to families during this difficult time.
There are several lessons that I will take from this experience. First, we must listen to understand, not to reply. During each visit, I asked questions to learn more about the lives of Keystone residents. Understanding their personal history allowed me to gain a deeper connection with them. I plan on doing the same if I am fortunate enough to have my own patients in the future. Naturally, I will provide a higher quality of care if I am emotionally connected to them.
Second, a simple smile can be extremely impactful. As I hinted earlier, positivity is contagious. While meeting with residents, I was consistently supportive, even when they described that they were bored or unmotivated. I knew that I had the power to brighten their lives by being friendly and positive, and I ensured that I maintained this demeanor throughout each visit that I made to the facility.
Several of the prompts were impactful; however, there is one that was particularly meaningful to me. It was titled the “Biology of Grief,” and it asked students to answer a couple of questions after reading an article that discussed different types of grief and the biological changes that one experiences while undergoing the grieving process. I have always been slightly uncomfortable with grief, as I fear that I will be consumed by sadness. Reading this article reminded me of the importance of experiencing grief. It allows us to heal. We must provide ourselves with this period of reflection.
In the end, the pre-med hospice volunteer program increased my ability to be empathetic and compassionate. Both traits are important in medicine, as most times, physicians are tasked with having vulnerable yet crucial conversations to provide advice to families who must make difficult decisions about their loved ones. I plan on continuing to refine these skills as I serve as a hospice volunteer at Gilchrist Hospice Care in Annapolis, Maryland. I recently completed the training process for this position, and I am looking forward to connecting with residents and families in my hometown.