An anonymous $1 million planned gift from a Kalamazoo philanthropist will support the ongoing work to develop endowed funds to support palliative care and a palliative care fellowship at the Western Michigan University Medical School.
The donation will establish the L. Lee Stryker Endowed Professorship in palliative care, said Doug Czajkowski, the medical school’s associate dean for Development. Palliative care training is a one-year fellowship for physician graduates who have completed residency. The faculty member for the endowed professorship is anticipated to serve as the fellowship program director.
“This gift is vitally important to our work at WMed to form this fellowship as a new training ground for the next generation of palliative care practitioners,” Czajkowski said. “Nationwide, there is a shortage of doctors specializing in palliative care. WMed can be a part of remedying that reality through this program.”
Funding to be able to create a palliative care fellowship at WMed began in 2017 when the medical school received a generous $1 million gift from Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan. The process of gaining approval from the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education for the fellowship will be initiated when sufficient funding is assured to support the entire cost of the fellowship.
Once the fellowship is up and running, it will provide training for one or two fellows per year who are seeking board certification in palliative care. The fellows are anticipated to train with faculty at Hospice of Southwest Michigan, Ascension Borgess Hospital, Bronson Methodist Hospital, and West Michigan Cancer Center.
“This latest gift for the palliative care fellowship really overlaps with the generosity of WMed’s original donors and their goal for this institution to be a partnership with the community,” said Michael Raphelson, MD, medical director of Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan and a clinical assistant professor in WMed’s Department of Family and Community Medicine. “This overlaps with the same idea that generous donors are willing to partner with us on something that will benefit the community going forward. More palliative care physicians are needed, and care for the chronically ill and geriatric care is going to shape medicine going forward.”
Michael Trexler, MD, medical director of Palliative Care at Ascension Borgess Hospital and a clinical assistant professor in the medical school’s Department of Medicine, said that he and Dr. Raphelson are hopeful that some of the physicians who are accepted into the fellowship will ultimately decide to stay in Southwest Michigan to practice palliative care after the completion of their training.
“Having more specially trained physicians in the region will allow for the important expansion of palliative care services in the area,” Dr. Trexler said.
“We are extremely excited and very grateful for such a large donation. What it says to us is that we have been entrusted with continuing our work and expanding our work to meet the growing needs of the community,” Dr. Trexler said. “It speaks to the idea of partnership between Borgess, Bronson, the medical school, hospice, and the community. For patients and their families, we want to be able to provide maximum support so they can cope better with serious and/or chronic illnesses.”
Czajkowski said fundraising for the new fellowship is continuing with the goal of raising a total of $4 million so that the endowment can fund the training of competent and compassionate palliative care physicians for the foreseeable future. He said Ascension Borgess and Bronson Healthcare will continue to be important partners in assuring the availability of faculty with expertise in palliative care and chronic care management.
Dr. Raphelson said the new fellowship comes at a critical time as there is a shortage of certified palliative care providers in the U.S. despite an ever-growing need and a U.S. population that is aging rapidly.
“Never before have the demographics of the population dictated what the world of medical care is going to look like in the future,” Dr. Raphelson said. “Palliative care is a burgeoning field of medicine that is ripe with research and training, and development potential. For the medical school to have a role in that process is good for WMed and the community and has the potential to have an impact locally, statewide, and nationally.”