2012 Update: Athena Institute Pre-med Hospice Volunteer Project


The Pre-Med Hospice Volunteer Program

coordinated by the
Home Care Network, Hospice and Palliative Care,
and the Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church under a grant from Athena Institute for Women's Wellness. Learn more about the program's history (click here)


Overview of 2011-2012
Athena Institute Pre-Med Hospice Volunteer Program:

Since it's launch in 2007, and the reconfiguration in 2011, the overall intention of the Athena Institute Pre-Med Hospice Volunteer Program has been; to instill in pre-med students a sense of humanity and understanding towards the geriatric patient and 'end-of-life' care through hospice service.

This 2011/2012 session was a success for both coordinators and students, and concluded with fourteen students from Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and Swarthmore being awarded a certificate of completion for their honorable achievement in hospice care.

For this year's session, we applaud the wonderful organization, enthusiasm, and efforts of the main coordinators; Reverend Joyce Krajian, Director of the Middleton Center at Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, Reverend Louisa Watkins Umphres, Pastoral Resident, BMPC, and Ms. Michelle Whipple, Hospice Volunteer Director at Main Line Health of Jefferson University Hospitals.

And, in keeping with the goal of continuously improving the program - the 2013 session will see exciting and progressive new changes...

Athena Institute Pre-Med Hospice Volunteer Program welcomes a new Director, the Reverend Graham Robinson. Introduced to the program by Reverend Charles Grant, Bryn Mawr Presbyterian, we are grateful to have Rev. Robinson - who brings his exceptional education and spiritual leadership background; Master of Theology 1999, Master of Div. 1993, Princeton Theological Seminary, and twenty years of pastoral care and teaching experience.

Athena Institute believes that this grant and program will help inspire students to embrace a holistic understanding of the person, and how aging impacts choices, as they study and begin to deliver medical services that often focus heavily on the 'immediacy' of saving lives in surgery, intensive care units, and emergency rooms. Some may even decide to choose geriatric medicine as their field, a specialty that is presently under-served.

At the end of each session, the program graduates are asked to submit their 'reflections' in essays… we hope you find reading their feedback as rewarding as their own experiences, please scroll down to view excerpts, and use the link below for each student's entire story (names omitted).

2012 Hospice Graduates "REFLECTION" Essays (excerpts below)

Read all graduates' full essays in their entirety; click here


From Bryn Mawr student HH -

Along the nine months of journey, so many people have asked me why I was doing this. They have been very concerned because it, indeed, is such an overwhelming experience… (however) through this program I have met so many amazing people. If I had not done this, I would have never met my wonderful patient and her husband.

Although I have volunteered at hospitals for many years, this was my first time ever building any intimate relationship with a patient and the family. Through my valuable time with them, I learned what it really means to be caring and patient... As a volunteer, there were some times I felt insignificant and not helpful - because all I could do was sit next to my patient, either talking or watching her favorite Soap Opera together. … However, they always appreciated me for taking a few hours every week to see them.

From Bryn Mawr student “AH” --

I open this reflection with … this dialogue transpired during my first visit with “Mr. Johnson,” a nonagenarian resident in a long-term care facility. When we met, he… lay inertly in a reclining chair by the nurses' station, but his gentle smile still welcomed my company. .. After exchanging names, I asked about his family.

Mr. Johnson: I had eight children -
Me: Wow.
Mr. Johnson: - but one son died of ALS.
Me: Oh, sir, that must have been difficult.
Mr. Johnson: Yes, it was. Do you know what ALS is?
Me: Yes, sir. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, I think.
Mr. Johnson: Yes…But he still comes to me.
Me: He does?
Mr. Johnson: He comes to me while I sleep.
Me: That must be comforting.
Mr. Johnson: It is.

…When I returned for our next visit, Mr. Johnson lay unresponsive in bed, curled rigidly in a ball, breathing raggedly … As Mr. Johnson prepared to leave the world, a gaggle of people entered the room to visit his hen-pecked roommate. The room, once laden with quiet anticipation, grew loud and tense as the crowd bickered from behind the curtain.

I sat at the foot of Mr. Johnson's bed, my hand on one of his stiffened knees... I hoped that he was as oblivious to the noise as the crowd was to his impending death. As I stood to leave, I wondered if Mr. Johnson's son came to greet him, drowning out the din with a joyful “Welcome home!”

My job as a hospice volunteer, and perhaps as a hopeful future physician, is to recognize the humanity of dying. Although the process may be frightening or sad, dying can be an uplifting opportunity, a time to grow, to deepen connections with loved ones, and to share memories. In this way, I remember my first conversation with Mr. Johnson, and though his life no longer exists tangibly, I carry his memories with me.

From Haverford student JW -

The Hospice Volunteer program has been an invaluable tool in shaping my confidence in addressing the issues of death and dying in both a medical and non-medical environment. Death scares me. It always has and I do not think that this program has changed that. I do not think that being a doctor will change that. But this experience has taught me that I can deal with issues of death and dying in a sensitive and powerful way. I have learned that I can make an impact in someone's life-whether that be now as a volunteer or later in life as a doctor, and can do that without letting a fear of death stand in the way.


From Haverford student PD --

'Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves…in order to deny the fact of death, which is the only fact we have. It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death --- ought to decide, indeed, to earn one's death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life.'
-James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time

When I read these beautiful words, I could not think of a more perfect libretto to describe one of my patients. Mr. B--, as he's always asked me to call him, has lived a very long life. Death, regardless of how desperate I once was to never see it come for Mr. B, will inevitably take him, perhaps even to a better place. I am no longer so anxious about his eventual passing. When I first got to know him, he seemed like the wisest person I'd ever meet. Now, several months into our friendship, I know he is probably the wisest person I've ever met; however, he has become far less intimidating over time...

I've always been told that to be a doctor, I had to compartmentalize and put my emotions away. I think some part of me always knew that I would be incapable of living my life this way. Seeing Mr. B every week has helped me see the balance that one can achieve between empathy and support as a caregiver.

From Bryn Mawr Student YZ --

This years' working experience with hospice and palliative care gave many unforgettable memories. One of the most unforgettable occasions happened during my first volunteer visit. When I tried to leave the room, she suddenly squeezed my hand and whispered “Don't leave me alone.” I realized the importance of hospice volunteer, to bring comfort and company to those old people...Little things I did meant a lot to them. To bring them a happy afternoon, all I have to do might just be sitting there and hold their hands.

After this program, I think I more determined on the road of the medicine. Especially it triggered my interest in the gerontology. I thinking taking care of the old people is a very important part of society...

From Bryn Mawr student LS -

This may sound bizarre, but from this entire hospice experience, I think I learned to do less. Now, of course I don't mean that I would ignore patients or their loved ones. But when I say less, I mean that during this experience of volunteering, reflecting, interacting, and listening, I realized that I didn't have to be (nor could I be) the person who provided everything to a patient…

As the program comes to a close, I see now that hospice is not the hero with a long cape who rushes in, destroys the fiery asteroid, and saves the day. Hospice is the warm, unwavering light of a fire to warm you when you need it. Hospice is the reliable and humble lamppost that illuminates your map just well enough that you can take comfort in where you are going.

*** end of excerpts; please read full essays; click here***

For More Details on the Hospice Program click here

*Athena Institute previously awarded a hospice research grant to the Ohio Presbyterian Church in 2006.