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Learning the Art of Compassionate Care: A Hospice Volunteer’s Journey

HospicehandsTonight I’m taking part in my first volunteer training session for Penn Wissahickon Hospice, where I’ll be learning how to greet visitors and answer incoming calls to our inpatient hospice unit. This unit was the first such inpatient unit opened in the Philadelphia-area back in 2008. I’m excited and nervous.

I first learned about volunteering with our hospice program through our own Penn Medicine News blog. My colleague, Gregory Richter, wrote a post about an innovative program using Reiki Therapy to help our hospice patients with pain management and to relieve stress and anxiety. His post detailed the hard work of a hospice volunteer, Sharon Civa, Entity Information Officer, Corporate Information Services at Penn Medicine, to get funding for this new program. Sharon has been a volunteer for over 12 years. She first became involved after seeing firsthand how important hospice care is for many patients.

By definition, hospice is a concept of care, designed to provide support to patients and their families when they are facing an end of life situation. Hospice does not prolong life, nor does it hasten death. Hospice programs are designed to comfort and provide physical support, emotional support and spiritual support, including pain management, counseling, and medical care.

Nationwide, over 1.5 million people receive some form of hospice care each year. And this number will only grow as the baby boomer generation continues to age.

The number of patients utilizing hospice care point to the need for well-trained professionals to care for these patients, but despite advanced educational programs such as the Penn Medicine Hospice and Palliative Medicine Fellowship, doctor and nursing staff shortages for hospice programs are common across the U.S.  Volunteers help fill in some of this void by supporting the work of the professional care team, spending time with the patients,  providing respite and support for family members, and even fund-raising and administrative work.

In fact, according to the Hospice Foundation of America, volunteers in the hospice setting are mandated by law. Organizations that receive hospice Medicare benefits from the government must have 5 percent of their direct services come from volunteers.  The HFA estimates that there are over 468,000 hospice volunteers nationwide. After tonight, there will be at least one more.

I’ll be writing a series of posts describing my training process and hopefully some insights into the latest in hospice research and patient care over the next few months. I’m hoping that through this experience, I’ll be helpful in some way, shape or form to both the patients and the amazing care teams that work selflessly to provide a respectful and peaceful experience for hospice patients.



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