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Vineyard Gazette: UMMS rural scholars study end-of-life planning as public health issue

By Sandra Gray

UMass Medical School Communications

November 07, 2018
  elderly couple walking outdoors
 

UMMS students conducted a study in Martha's Vineyard to identify the community’s end-of-life planning concerns and needs and assessed advance care planning resources available on the island. 

Members of the Rural Health Scholars Pathway at UMass Medical School have been contributing their time and talent for nearly a decade to improve health on the tiny island of Martha’s Vineyard, which is federally designated as a medically underserved rural region. Most recently, six medical students and two graduate nursing students conducted a study to identify the community’s end-of-life planning concerns and needs, as reported in the Nov. 5 issue of the Vineyard Gazette.

Planning for end-of-life care is a must in an aging community where many residents live far from their relatives.

“There’s an increasing population of older adults who really intend to spend the rest of their lives in this community,” said Julia Oppenheimer, SOM ’21.

The team surveyed dozens of stakeholders on the island, including elder citizens, health care providers and community service leaders. They defined advance care planning as a thoughtful discussion about how a person wishes to spend the end of his or her life.

Findings included strengths in the community, such as faith leaders who are engaged, and existing support networks such as the councils on aging. They also found obstacles to end-of-life planning that they identified, such as a shortage of primary care doctors and geographic isolation from family members. The study assessed advance care planning resources available on the island.

The Rural Health Scholars Pathway provides UMMS medical and graduate nursing students with an interprofessional learning experience in which they explore the unique challenges and rewards of practicing in rural areas and small towns. The program enjoys an especially strong collaboration with the Duke County Health Department, which has formed its Rural Scholars Committee to coordinate public health research and service projects with UMMS students.

Related stories on UMassMedNow:
Rural health scholars making a difference on Martha’s Vineyard
Medicine from the heart: Island Counseling
Rural Health Scholars join forces at regional conference: Medical and nursing students committed to rural health care