by Christina Rowe, AAHPM Account Coordinator

Though I have previous experience with medical associations prior to joining the AAHPM staff, most of my experience with Hospice and Palliative Care was in a personal capacity. For the past few years as we worked with my father’s physicians to keep him comfortable, our goal was to give him the best quality of life with the time he had remaining. From the patient side you’re often too worried about if you’re making the right decisions, or spending your time with your loved one in the best way possible, rather than to step back and think about where the care is coming from or the training the physicians completed to bring your loved one quality care. So recently when another staff member and I were given a special opportunity to visit AAHPM member Dr. Stacie Levine at University of Chicago Medical Center, it was from a new vantage point for me. Throughout the day we were also able to speak with Dr. William Dale, Chief of the section of Geriatrics and Palliative Care, and Dr. Monica Malec, Assistant Professor of Medicine and a colleague of Dr. Levine’s and to learn of their roles in geriatrics and palliative care.

In a whirlwind afternoon, Dr. Levine gave us tours of the various practice settings where fellows of the University of Chicago palliative care program complete rotations. We were able to visit the hospital, the oncology clinic, a long-term care location, and the in-patient hospice they work with. The program demonstrated the many different facets that create the fine balance of palliative care.

The fellowship program makes an effort to have the fellow follow patients through each new shift in care, from hospital visits, to long term care, through hospice care. Though there are clear challenges of following a patient through many changes while balancing the fellowship program, Dr. Levine pointed out the importance of participating in the full care of the patient when possible. Though the difficulties (funding, staff time, etc) of setting up a fellowship program were clear, it was even clearer that the education and experience it provides is priceless.

One of the strongest impressions made on me came when we had been discussing how their hospice and palliative care physicians and program interacts with other specialties within the hospital, such as Oncology. While walking through the oncology clinic, Dr. Levine and Dr. Malec were explaining the importance of a palliative care physician being present, when without fail one of the Oncologists saw them and said “Oh! I have a patient I would like you to see!” Just their presence triggered the thought that palliative care should be added to the patient’s treatment.

That importance of presence resonates through so much of what makes hospice and palliative care unique. Being present in learning and teaching the many aspects of hospice and palliative care, being present in interactions with other specialties as a reminder to add Palliative care to a treatment plan, being present with the patients and their families, being present in the different stages of care for a patient, and being present in AAHPM as a voice of a growing specialty.

Thank you to Dr. Levine, Dr. Dale, Dr. Malec, and others who gave us a wonderful glimpse of their days and the University of Chicago’s program!