When one thinks of hospice care, the first description that comes to mind is often somber; in reality, hospice care surpasses the negative connotation society has for the service.
Hospices are not just places where patients await the end of life, but also a service where patients receive high-quality treatment.
This positive outlook on hospice care is shared by Emily Kim, a junior at Carlmont who has volunteered at hospices for over a year.
“I discovered the opportunity to work at hospices during my sophomore year. Deciding to apply for a volunteer position definitely shaped my passion for medical care and has positively changed my perspective on the concepts of life and death,” Kim said.
After months of training, Kim finally became an official volunteer at Mission Hospice in San Mateo.
“Being the youngest and only high school volunteer was definitely a challenge at first, but getting the opportunity to work hand in hand with some of the most highly trained nurses and health specialists in the area has been invaluable,” Kim said.
As a volunteer, Kim specifically handles the day-to-day tasks and needs of the patients. Her work mostly includes helping the nurses with their extra work, cleaning the space, feeding the patients, and keeping them company.
“My work at the hospice is far from what most of society expects of the service. What I adore about the Mission Hospice program and staff is that they treat every patient with respect, regardless of their condition, and preserve their humanity. For example, the staff hand feeds the patients rather than simply hooking them onto a machine,” Kim said. “Most people believe that all hospices are strictly business based on societal stigma, but not all programs are mechanical, especially when funded correctly.”
While learning to work with the patients, Kim’s communication skills developed tremendously.
Laura Paniagua, a nurse at the Mission Hospice, said, “I have been working alongside Emily for a majority of her time as a volunteer and I am beyond impressed with her dedication to the work. Seeing the way she handles our patients with such gentle love and care at such a young age gives me hope for the future that people will see hospices as places for quality support rather than just death.”
Throughout her experience as a volunteer, Kim has developed a new sense of respect for people who work in hospice care and strives to break the negative connotation society has for the service.
“When I first heard about hospice care, I immediately pictured a dismal elderly home where patients reside when they are about to pass. However, my work at Mission Hospice has taught me that there is so much stigma surrounding hospices and that a majority of it is exaggerated, which I strive to combat,” Kim said.
Mission Hospice gave her a new outlook on life.
“Coming into volunteer every weekend and seeing all of the families interacting with their loved ones in the hospice home has made me appreciate my life so much more,” Kim said. “Being able to put a smile on the patients face, despite their condition, is the most warm and rewarding feeling I have ever felt. Hospices are meant to care for people, not dehumanize them.”
Whether it be at school, work, or home, Kim strives to embody Mission Hospice’s motto, “It’s about life.”
Dr. Gary Pasternak, a doctor at Mission Hospice, said, “Throughout my experience in the field of hospice care, people in my life constantly ask me how I am able to do my job because it seems ‘too depressing.’ And I always say the same thing to them: it’s not about death, it’s about life. Our job as a hospice staff is to provide patients with the materials and opportunity to fulfill their own meaning in life, as well as to celebrate their humanity. And to see a junior in high school already spreading awareness and embodying this message is truly inspiring to me.”
As of today, Kim continues to volunteer at Mission Hospice and is excited to explore a future medicinal career in the hopes of opening people’s eyes to the joy that comes with hospice care.
“Volunteering at Mission Hospice is definitely what I look forward to most at the end of every week. My dream is that I will hopefully attend a college close-by so I can stop by to help whenever I can because the staff and some of the patients have become a second family to me,” Kim said. “This program has truly taught me to cherish the little moments in life and to not let societal expectations hinder your future. We as a society should not be preparing for the end of life, but rather celebrating our humanity overall.”
To learn more about the history of Mission Hospice, visit their website here and watch their video below.