Garrett Wagner, Caryn Wolter, and Benjamin Miller are medical students at the University of Minnesota. They are also rays of sunshine to patients in the care of Our Lady of Peace Hospice and the Highland Block Nurse Program.
As part of their coursework, U of M medical students are required to volunteer at an organization of their choice. The culmination is a presentation on their chosen organization at a medical conference in the spring. Known as The Legacy Program, the volunteer work gives students experiences that will help them be better doctors.
Garrett, who is considering specializing in gerontology, says it’s good to get to know geriatric patients and learn about the issues that come with moving towards end-of-life. “There are social and emotional struggles of aging, like learning how to deal with the loss of spouse and friends,” says Garrett. “Losing a spouse is huge because you no longer have your partner who was at your side for so long.”
Louise Hiniker is a Highland Block Nurse Program. client who is benefiting from Garrett’s weekly visits that are filled with compassion and great conversation. Louise’s husband passed away just before Covid hit, and her close friend moved away, so she appreciates Garrett’s company. She also appreciates his seminary training. “Because I’m 79 and have several chronic illnesses, I’m looking at end of life issues and Garret is wonderful to talk to about it. He brings a wealth of information, empathy, and support.
Garrett says that he realized how much of a ministry medicine is, and he wanted to be there for people. “Louise talks about what she’s grateful for. And with a focus on her legacy, we also talk about things that have happened throughout history and how they impacted her.” Every week, Garrett documents the stories of Louise’s life and career, and he gives the notes to her to keep, or share with her family. “I’ve noticed a change in Louise,” he says. “I think our discussions about the after-life and having long-term hope has been beneficial for her.”
Louise agrees. “I’ve learned that there are people who have been given the goodness and grace to be with me as I’m accepting the reality of end of life. As I’m accepting my illness or death, there will be someone present with me. That is a profound wish and hope and I want to trust that I will not be alone at the end.”
Caryn was a companion to an Our Lady of Peace hospice patient who recently passed away. “She was anxious about being alone and enjoyed people sitting with her. It was a good experience for me to know that just being there could make a difference in someone’s life. I’ve learned that there isn’t a solution for everything, but I can comfort people, and do a lot just by being there.” Caryn thinks she will most likely go into internal medicine and specialize from there. “I’m interested in palliative care, so wanted to get exposure to hospice,” she explains. “I’m looking forward to meeting a new patient who entered hospice a month ago. Getting on her team earlier, will give me more time to build a relationship with her. She has Alzheimer’s, and I haven’t worked with an Alzheimer’s patient yet, so it will be a good experience.”
Patrick King is an Our Lady of Peace patient who entered hospice in his home as soon as he qualified for it. He wanted the highest quality of life possible in his final months, and he
says it is the best decision he has ever made. Benjamin, Patrick’s volunteer medical student, is one of the reasons it’s been a good decision. “My hospice caregivers have become my friends,
and so has Benjamin,” Patrick says. “We talk and he cleans up my apartment. It’s wonderful
to spend time with him.”
Benjamin also values his time with Patrick. With prior work experience as a scribe in oncology and hematology, Benjamin knows that many cancer patients go into hospice care, so it’s good to learn more about it. He points out that Patrick preferred not to spend time talking about his legacy, which created another useful experience. “I worked with Patrick to come up with a different plan that better suited his needs. This is something I see happening when I’m a doctor,” says Benjamin. “Supporting Patrick as he receives hospice care has been an incredibly rewarding experience and providing housekeeping services has felt meaningful because I know that it contributes to improving his quality of life. In the process of serving in a tangible way, I have also had the pleasure of getting to know a delightful person.”
These medical student volunteers are blessing the lives of the Our Lady of Peace patients and clients in the Highland Block Nurse Program. We are grateful for their time and commitment, and we’re honored to play a role in their education.