Thursday, February 9, 2023

Commission aims to improve life for terminally ill

September 5, 2001

The Michigan Commission on End of Life Care presented Gov. John Engler with a report Thursday to improve treatment for terminally ill patients and prepare physicians for end of life issues. Commission members say medical students will play a key role in implementing the initiatives.

“It’s important to make students think about how people’s families, spirituality and health are related,” said the Rev. Clayton L. Thomason, the commission’s chairman and an assistant professor of spirituality and ethics in medicine at MSU.

The 12-member commission, which includes other MSU medical professors, examined statewide policies and prepared initiatives to improve end-of-life care and training for health care professionals and students.

The commission will implement a public information campaign to encourage families to talk about health care decisions and end of life issues.

“We’re struggling with death as a societal discussion,” said John W. Finn, vice president of medical affairs for Hospice of Michigan, an organization that provides care for terminally ill patients.

Finn said Hospice of Michigan should be utilized by medical students to learn how to communicate with families and patients.

“Students do have these anxieties at the bedside,” he said. “Hospice reinforces to the student that dying is a natural part of life. It’s not a medical failure.”

Finn, a professor at Wayne State University, said preliminary statistics from a study at Wayne State show most medical students are fearful of managing their emotions and communicating with dying patients and their family members.

But at MSU, Thomason said curriculum aims to prepare medical students to handle pain management and social, psychological and spiritual issues in life care.

“As the baby boom generation ages more and more, physicians will address these issues,” he said. “Physicians need to be engaging in the care of the whole person, not just the symptom of the disease.”

Judy Schwinghamer, an adviser for the Preprofessional Society of Health Careers of Alpha Epsilon Delta at MSU, said pre-med students can learn about long-term care for patients through volunteering and seminars with guest speakers.

“We’ve hit upon how dying impacts medical students,” Schwinghamer said.

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