Medical Humanities News

A New Perspective: End of Life Care and Bereavement

Oct. 1, 2013

While death is an uneasy topic to discuss, a new course at Baylor will help students learn how to approach it and to better understand it from a theological view point.

Dr. Bill Hoy, a professor of the Medical Humanities Program at Baylor, developed and created a new course for the program called End of Life Care and Bereavement. The course was officially offered to students in the fall of 2013.

The course was created with input and support from Dr. James Marcum, the program director and professor of the Medical Humanities Program at Baylor, and Dr. Lauren Barron, the associate director and clinical professor of the Medical Humanities Program.

"Doctors Barren, Marcum, and I all three believe that people going into healthcare today need a firm grasp on the issues that folks confront at end of life," he said. "We die from a lot of different things but we all die. Helping students to think through that--we think it's a really important and philosophical discussion to have."

Dr. Hoy said the course is designed to address the concerns of colleagues, patients, and to help future healthcare providers feel more comfortable about the topic of death.

"One of the things I constantly hear complaints from my colleagues who are end of life care providers and from patients--and it's more important that I hear this from patients--is that they feel like their healthcare providers are woefully equipped," he said. "There are many specialties in medicine where you just don't say the "D" word."

Dr. Hoy said the course will help facilitate discussion about the subject of death and end of life care in general among undergraduate students before they enter medical school. This discourse aims to remind aspiring healthcare providers that human mortality is an inevitable reality.

Students will also examine how humans die, how that has changed from an epilogical standpoint, and how death is perceived in society by way of the media.

"We talk some about death, the media, and how all of us get most of what we know about death and bereavement from what we see on TV," he said. "Because death is always handled cleanly, quickly and we move on in a one hour show on TV--if you watch a crime show and it's dispensed with and it's done--that's sends a real subtle message that this is easily and quickly dispensed with. So we try to dispel that."

Students will also examine death issues, including end of life care and philosophical and spiritual inquiries people face on a regular basis. Dr. Hoy said in the second part of the semester, students will tackle the spiritual constructs that underlie the issues surrounding death. One of the topics is bereavement and how it can vary depending on the situation in which the death occurred, such as in the family and in the community.

To help students gain a better understanding of hospice care, Dr. Hoy said the course will feature hospice chaplains and hospice physicians from palliative care facilities that will speak to students. The students will also understand hospice care from the viewpoint of the patients that are or were under hospice care.

Dr. Hoy said students will not only discuss ethical issues--such physician assisted dying and feudal care--but they will also delve into the creation of personal directives.

"They'll actually create their own advance directive that says under what circumstance whether they would be revived or not because we talk about those ethical issues," he said. "They do have to do some pretty introspective thinking about their own death."

Overall, Dr. Hoy hopes that his course will help aspiring healthcare providers learn how to contemplate and understand mortality and therefore, become better human beings.

by Maegan Rocio