Americans may be living longer, but eventually death comes to us all. It's encouraging that medical schools are making care of the dying a part of medical students' curriculum.
Medical students' education is enhanced when they spend time at hospice and palliative care centers, especially if the centers are anything like the Hospice of Northwest Ohio. The focus of those establishments is to comfort and care for the terminally ill and to help family members through painful and difficult times.
Indeed, medicine's primary focus has been to cure the sick and the diseased. That still must remain its cornerstone. But not everyone will get well, and the patients, their families, and the medical community must face the inevitable. The rise in hospice use signals that more people are open to accepting what will come for us all. Last year, 700,000 people used hospice care nationally, compared with 540,000 in 1998.
The Medical College of Ohio is among the med schools that have added care-of-the-dying instruction to their curriculum. Until now, though, some physicians have obtained experience with dying patients on the job.
It's difficult for patients and their families to deal with terminal illness. The Hospice of Northwest Ohio in Perrysburg Township does an excellent job helping patients and families. It's unfortunate that so many terminally ill patients resist hospice until death is very near - hospice care is about much more than making the final hours as comfortable as possible.
Patients usually want to know how much time is left, but doctors often find it difficult to be precise. That's an answer that lies partly in the medical care provided, and partly in the hands of a greater power.
But anyone who has watched another human being die never forgets the experience. Exposing physicians to dying patients will make them better doctors because they'll have an improved perspective on death. After all, death is part of life.
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