Normally shadowing a physician provides medical students with unique insights of their daily hospital practices, but not so with this group of medical students at Mackay Hospital. These medical students shadow doctors in order to learn what a hospice is by observing with their eyes and experiencing with their hearts the interactions between patients and doctors.
Subsidised by the Ministry of Science and Technology, the Hospice Foundation of Taiwan has launched a series of Shadow Doctor Camps to offer opportunities to pre-med and non-medical students who are interested in hospice care. This is a great opportunity to experience and learn from the actual setting of a hospice ward.
With the encouragement of school teachers, many freshman and sophomore pre-med students from Yang Ming Medical University, Mackay Medical College, and China Medical University have registered in the Shadow Doctor Camp at the Mackay Hospice and Palliative Care Center in Danshui. Led by the medical school students’ participation, the Shadow Doctor Camp consists of 20 participants in each session and has now completed six sessions.
Why encourage students to participate? Professor Dr Enoch Lai from Mackay Medical College draws on his more than twenty years of experience in teaching to explain: besides passing on medical knowledge and skills, the Shadow Doctor Camps instill empathy.
Working with empathy, pre-med students will learn to make the most suitable decisions based on the patients’ interests. This is also why Professor Lai insists on the participation of the pre-med students in the Camp.
The former superintendent of Mackay Hospital, Dr Yang, once advocated for all medical supervisors to participate in a ‘One Day in Hospice’ program to experience what it was like for hospice patients. Unfortunately, Dr Yang was diagnosed with lymphoma, and this experiment was never implemented.
Nevertheless, Professor Lai emphasises that the Shadow Doctor Camp shares the same spirit with Dr Yang’s ‘One Day in Hospice’. The ultimate purpose is to have the participants feel for the bitterness and suffering that can be experienced by patients and their families.
One of the courses is named: ‘Be Friends with Patients’, during which participants are divided into small groups to create their own versions of doctor-patient conversations.
Through these conversations, participants act as helper, aided person and observer, and learn how to better communicate with patients with empathy and without making them feel ashamed – this is an important concept needed even before participants set foot in the hospice wards and have actual interactions with patients.
During these five days of camp, these participants follow the attending physicians and closely observe how they communicate and work with patients. At the same time, participants have opportunities to observe the nurses, social workers and other palliative care team members. Since this camp is not considered formal education, consent is asked of patients in advance to ensure their personal privacy is protected and to conform to ethical procedures.
As our utmost goal, we strive for the patients’ comfort in the hospice ward. Be it physically or psychologically, the shadow doctors are also introduced to all sorts of complementary therapies used, like music therapy, aromatherapy and art therapy. With these therapeutic techniques, patients feel relaxed and relieved in body and soul.
Though the camps are relatively short, they help in spreading the seeds of hospice care and deepening its roots. In the closing ceremony of the 11th Asia Pacific Hospice Conference held in Taiwan, Professor Lai mentioned the task at hand is now the care provided for terminally ill patients. He expects these shadow doctors to have this experience treasured and never forget why they choose to be a doctor in the first place. After all, being a doctor should be less about curing diseases and more about caring for patients as persons.