Caring for Hospice Patients Is Often Gratifying

Article excerpt

During his 20-plus years as a medical director for Hospice of Marin in Corte Madera, Calif., Dr. William Lamers had moments of patient interaction he never expected. Like the time an 84-year-old patient looked up to him from a bed in her own home and in her final breath said, "Dying, you know, is the experience of a lifetime."

"She meant that in a positive way, because of all the positive things that happened as she approached death," recalls Dr. Lamers. The patient chose to die at home rather than in a nursing home.

"We said to her daughter. 'We will help teach you how to provide care for your mom,'" according to Dr. Lamers, who is a retired psychiatrist who is now a medical consultant for the Hospice Foundation of America (www.hospice-foundation.org).

"We got two daughters and three grandchildren involved in providing her care. To get that kind of feedback was wonderful."

In 2002, hospices in the United States provided end-of-life care for about 850,000 people, which is a 15% jump from the previous year, says Dr. John Finn, medical director of the Detroit-based Hospice of Michigan.

"We're seeing growth in the number of hospice programs, and they are all going to need medical directors. It's very gratifying to work for someone who is idealistic, who wants to make a more meaningful impact on the experience of patients, and who wants to have the luxury of working with an interdisciplinary team of social workers, nurses, and chaplains."

The notion of relinquishing control to the patient sets hospice apart from other modes of health care delivery, says Dr. Thomas Kintanar, a family physician who is medical director for Heart and Hospice in Fort Wayne, Ind.

The best hospice care occurs when the patient's physician remains involved in caring for the patient, with additional support from the hospice medical director and other hospice staff. Dr. Kintanar says. …