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Young people learn about end-of-life care by doing it

ASU Intro to Dementia students

ASU students enrolled in class about hospice and palliative care.

By Beverly Medlyn
Communications Director

As a high school student, Sandra Villalobos didn’t think she could handle hospice work emotionally when she first heard about a Teens in Nursing volunteer program offered by Hospice of the Valley. But she decided to give it a try.

“After the experience, I knew I really, really, really wanted to do this,” Villalobos said. “I don’t see myself doing anything else. I love it!”

Israel Zaldivar—who explored business, engineering and science majors at ASU—signed up last year for a course in Alzheimer’s and Dementia taught by Hospice of the Valley’s Dr. Gillian Hamilton, administrative medical director. “I took the class and instantly fell in love with medicine,” he said. “Hospice of the Valley and Dr. Hamilton totally changed my life.”

Now Villalobos is working as a certified nursing assistant at one of the agency’s inpatient hospice homes. Zaldivar continued his studies by enrolling this year in an internship based at two inpatient hospice homes—one for adults, one for children. Villalobos aspires to become a Hospice of the Valley nurse. Zaldivar wants to become a physician specializing in hospice and palliative medicine.

Educating, mentoring and sustaining the next generation of hospice and palliative medicine specialists is the goal of several Hospice of the Valley programs for teens and young adults.

“Quality end-of-life care will always be needed,” said Debbie Shumway, executive director. “We have a responsibility to pass on what we know to talented young people who have the heart for our mission and the creativity to find new ways to continually improve our care.”

Programs include teen volunteers, undergraduate ASU classes, pre-med and medical student volunteers, and rotations for physicians-in-training.

“Sometimes end of life can be a topic that gets glossed over in medical school,” said Chris Bean, a medical school student and hospice volunteer. “A lot of times death is seen as a loss or failure for physicians. But in reality, if you ask people if they want to pass away in an intensive care unit hooked up to machines or at home with their pain managed, they don’t want to be in a hospital. I think it’s great that medical students have an opportunity to see hospice.”

Annie Schmidt, an undergraduate at ASU, said the course she took on dementia has had both a professional and personal impact on her. Much of the course is devoted to “hands-on” learning working with patients at Gardiner Home, devoted to caring for people with dementia.

“Learning best practices from the best in the field makes me excited to become a geriatrician,” she said. “Spending time with people with dementia slows me down, and makes me more at peace with life and death. For me, understanding life’s end makes the rest of it better, too, and that’s exactly what this class teaches me.”

ASU courses for fall 2018
HCD 294 – Intro to Hospice and Palliative Care

Explore hospice and palliative care through classroom meetings with healthcare professionals and by direct experience in a patient’s home or an inpatient hospice unit with the professionals who provide their care.

Faculty: Rachel Behrendt, DNP, RN, NEA-BC, senior vice president operations, Hospice of the Valley.

HCD 394 - Intro to Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease

Explore Alzheimer’s disease from the perspective of patients, caregivers, and healthcare professionals through class discussions with experts and by visiting persons with dementia in their homes.

Faculty: Gillian Hamilton, MD, PhD, administrative medical director, Hospice of the Valley.

HCD 494 – Internship in Palliative Care or Alzheimer’s disease

Eight hours/week advanced level direct experience with professionals caring for palliative care patients.