Students help patients face the reality of death

September 29, 2015

PASCO students group UNTHSC

Hospice care for terminally ill patients isn’t easy duty. In addition to patients’ fear and families’ grief, health care professionals must get past a youth-centered cultural bias that denies the reality of death.

Yet, dying patients and their families are often in acute need of understanding and support.

To meet this need, students in the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine created an innovative way to serve the community while learning how best to care for dying patients. Last year, they founded a new student group, the first of its kind in the nation: Palliative and Supportive Care Organization (PASCO).

The four dozen members have volunteered more than 200 hours at the Community Hospice of Texas in downtown Fort Worth. Their most intense and rewarding work is visiting with patients and families.

“We often spend time with patients who never have any visitors,” said Kyle Kalra, PASCO founding president. “One of the students had a four-hour conversation and heard the patient’s life story, and the patient passed away the next day.”

Learn more about hospice.

Kalra said his experiences at the hospice will make him a better doctor.

“It’s easy to give a patient bad news – you walk in, give the diagnosis and tell them who you’re referring them to. Then you can leave,” he said.

“But it takes more time, effort and training, more compassion, to talk to people about their bad news. Just being in the room means ‘I’m here for you.’”

PASCO includes students from other colleges on the UNT Health Science Center campus, such as the System College of Pharmacy.

“I’ve learned a lot about management in a collaborative environment,” Kalra said.

Community Hospice Volunteer Coordinator Julie Clark said the PASCO students are a major asset and that their knowledge allowed the hospice to train them in just one day rather than the usual five.

PASCO teaches students how to help patients “leave this earth comfortably and with respect,” said faculty advisor Janet Lieto, DO, Assistant Professor of Geriatrics.

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