Pain, Palliative Medicine, and Hospice Care: Learning From Each Other
Stephanie Gilbertson-White, associate professor, College of Nursing
India Winterim is an intensive, three-week program that sends UI students to India over winter break to collaborate with nonprofit organizations in addressing the country's most pressing social issues, such as access to health care, water poverty, and sustainable development. This particular India Winterim course is intended for undergraduates in the UI College of Nursing and other health-related fields. It explores the ways in which palliative caregivers can use novel approaches and community volunteers to relieve suffering for patients with serious illnesses.
"This class gives students an expanded awareness of health-related distress and the impact of uncontrolled pain—as well as the dying and grief journey that all humans experience," says Gilbertson-White. She co-teaches the course with M.R. Rajagopal, the physician who founded Pallium India, a nonprofit palliative-care organization in Trivandrum, the capital city of the southern Indian state of Kerala. While in Trivandrum, class participants can compare the United States' insurance-driven standards for palliative care with that of a philanthropic health organization in India.
Through an immersive, hands-on experience that includes classroom sessions, service projects, home visits, collaboration with health care providers, and medical rounds on in-patient units, students gain a deeper understanding of what it means to cope with serious illness and poverty. They also assess alternative approaches to medicine and learn skills to communicate with people at the end of their lives. "We explore the role of religion and spirituality in managing suffering, along with the socioeconomic factors that can affect patients' health," says Gilbertson-White.
Through this global educational experience, students get a personal look at health care's ability to transform the lives of those with disabilities and life-threatening diagnoses. "The extraordinary individuals who make up Pallium India welcome our students and open their minds to the entire experience of living with a serious illness and coping with grief," says Gilbertson-White.
"At Pallium India, the main goal is providing quality of life, not quantity," says Teagan White, a UI senior from Cary, Illinois, majoring in health and human physiology. She and her classmates observed this approach firsthand while accompanying Indian nurses and physicians to home visits with patients.
"Providing palliative care can be as simple as holding someone's hand or wiping a tear," White says. "It doesn't have to involve extreme measures to save someone, which means patients can die with dignity."
During their stay, UI students also had the chance to explore the country. They visited an elephant sanctuary and hiked high up to an ancient temple, where they perched on rocks and gazed across the land. "It felt like we were on top of the world," says White. "It was just a beautiful place to reflect on this life-changing trip and process how wonderful human beings can be to one another."