Self Growth Through Hospice Volunteering

The Pre-Medical Hospice Program has been one of the most rewarding experiences I have had as a pre-medical student. It is easy to get bogged down by the classes and the technical aspects of getting into medical school. I feel like often as a pre-medical student people lose sight of what is important. They forget that at the end of the road when they become doctors, they will be interacting with patients every day. The valuable lessons about human interaction are not taught in textbooks and classrooms, but they are learned through experience. This program provided me with that, and I will be more prepared as a doctor in the future with my experience here.

The topic of discussion that I was really drawn to was the Cultural Aspect of Death. I feel like this is an important topic especially now in America and the world. There is so much diversity and it is important to understand how people deal with death so that we do not hold others to our standards of grieving. I was initially shocked when I heard stories in the meeting about cultures where people do not talk about those that have passed away after they grieve. Different cultures deal with death in different ways, and I was fascinated to learn that in some cultures people throw parties to celebrate the person’s legacy. Overall this topic fascinated me the most and I became more curious about my own culture.

Volunteering in the VA Hospice was especially unique because I had the amazing opportunity to get to know the heroes that fought for this great nation. It was always heartbreaking to see patients who were alone at the end of their life, even when they had sacrificed so much for others. Of my three years as an undergraduate, I have never cried so much than during this program. This is not a bad thing because for the first time in my life I was dealing with death and having intense conversations about it. After one of the meetings I talked to my parents about deaths in our family. I wanted to finally have these conversations that I was previously pushing aside.

This was a freeing experience for me, because an unexpected result of this program was that I resolved a lot of things in my personal life. Last year (2016) was tough for me. When I began this program, I was in a negative place. I had my heartbroken. I had failed friendships. I was homesick, stressed about school and so on. I was always complaining to my friends, all the time. When we were discussing end of life at one of the meetings, it just hit me how short life is. I began to realize that I had spent almost a year of my life feeling sad for myself. Doing this program made me realize how small and irrelevant my problems are. There are always veterans greeting me with a big smile when I enter the building or just walking in the halls. I would see patients lying in bed hooked up to machines or patients rolling around in wheel chairs and they were still joking around and laughing. It made me realize that it is possible to make the best of any situation. I began to appreciate my life and the opportunities I have. I have a more positive outlook on life and I am more hopeful.