By Song My Hoang
Union officially implemented a new summer fellowship program for students with an interest in caring for residents at the Joan Nicole Prince Home.
The UCARE (Community, Action, Research and Education) Summer Fellowship Program provides students the opportunity to engage in a full-time, structured, educational program that focuses on palliative care.
The program goes from June 15 to Aug. 8, and student fellows will receive a $3,000 stipend.
Student fellows will commit to eight weeks of volunteering at JNP and work approximately 30 hours per week.
JNP is located in Scotia, and it provides a home-like environment and 24-hour bedside care for two residents at a time. The staff mainly is comprised of volunteers.
According to the home’s website, JNP is not affiliated with a medical facility and is run by the Schenectady Community Home Inc.
The website states, “The Home collaborates with Hospice who provides the medical management for the patients as they do for anyone receiving hospice care in their own home environment.”
Several Union students are involved with volunteering at JNP. Students even complete educational projects in conjunction with the home because many academic disciplines study death and dying.
Mary Cordier ’17 has been volunteering at the home for two years.
This term, Cordier is creating a film about the home for her Community Media Action Lab. She wanted to make a video that would raise awareness for the home among the community.
Cordier affirmed that she will continue to volunteer at JNP throughout the year and will continue to help terminally ill patients after graduating.
“I didn’t volunteer at the home to improve my resume. I wanted to seek a new life experience. I just wanted to help,” she said.
She said that she has gained many memorable experiences while volunteering at JNP.
Cordier commented, “I love hearing their stories and advice. For example, I was having trouble with picking my major last year. One of the ladies I cared for told me, ‘You have to do what you love. I spent 20 years doing what I thought was right, and that didn’t make me happy.’ That advice just stuck with me.”
Cordier encourages students to get out of the Union bubble and try to volunteer at JNP and apply to the UCARE Summer Fellowship Program.
She noted, “Yes, the idea of helping terminally ill patients sounds depressing. However, you realize that providing comfort and support leaves an impact for these patients. This makes volunteering worth it.”
She continued, “I think of it as a peaceful end to their life. The home gives you a reality check. Life isn’t about going to work and being selfish.”
Professor Weisse added that Union’s close connection with
JNP has allowed students to receive the opportunity for clinical outreach and service. This experience has shaped students’ career goals.
Students also begin to find ways to apply their academic interests to their work at home. However, she argued, “the majority of students are doing service without ‘learning.’ Several students face these challenges alone, without the guidance or the opportunity to reflect on big questions.”
Therefore, Professor of Psychology and Director of the Health Professions program Carol Weisse, Leadership in Medicine student Kathryn Martin ’16 and Dr. Geri Aitken ’88 co-authored a learning curriculum entitled “Cultivating a Community of Compassionate Caregivers: A Community Based Learning Curriculum on Palliative Care,” which outlines the current UCARE program.
Weisse explained, “Union has agreed to fund eight fellows as a pilot. I will be working with the students this summer as part of my sabbatical project to promote awareness about hospice and palliative care.”
She added that this new learning curriculum has received interest from other area colleges, such as Skidmore College, Siena College and SUNY Empire State College.
Weisse has met with representatives from these colleges to “discuss ways for them to develop similar programs with other homes in upstate New York.” Union’s program could expand to another 25 homes for the dying in upstate New York.
Professor Weisse commented that the goal of the program is to “provide students with a full-time, residential experience focused on understanding the challenges of providing care to terminally ill members of the community.
The eight-week fellowship will challenge students by having them work alongside community members in one of upstate New York’s comfort care ‘homes for the dying.’”
UCARE fellows will provide direct beside care to two terminally ill residents, as well as perform additional activities during the summer program. Weisse elaborated on their responsibilities. Student fellows will be members of a caregiver team that includes student fellows, staff at JNP and other volunteers.
Students will become “surrogate family members” who provide resident care needs, such as toileting, feeding, taking medications and emotional support for the families. They will observe hospice care team members and resident care staff. Student fellows are required to keep a journal based on their field notes, as well as develop written descriptions that document care decisions.
Students are required to “complete 10 experimental learning modules with readings and clinical vignettes,” which include written narratives on caregiving experiences, communication, cultural competency and issues surrounding death and dying.
Also, student fellows will work on a project that addresses a specific research question that is determined by the home’s staff or board of directors.