Time has gone by very quickly since I began my Bush Fellowship six months ago. I have had opportunities I never dreamed of. I have also had surprises and challenges which have led to my own deeper learning of my Fellowship and all its dimensions.
My understanding of my own leadership is growing and expanding each day that I continue working on my Fellowship. I am learning that my focus has moved from a specific plan to an unfolding vision that keeps expanding. I know that this 24-month Fellowship is providing me with the gift of leadership to last for many years after my Fellowship ends. It is a gift of a lifetime to fulfill my life’s passion and purpose.
A big surprise of the Bush Fellowship was the requirement of self-care. I recall wondering how I would incorporate self-care when I just took on more work! But the Bush team was clear that it was a requirement. They understood that if, as a Fellow, one doesn’t learn how to incorporate self-care, then the work that is begun through the Fellowship will not be sustained. Incorporating self-care from the beginning of the Fellowship allows me to think, most days, about how I take care of myself so that I can sustain this work into the indefinite future.
Most mornings I begin my day meditating followed by exercising. Getting up earlier each day to incorporate this routine took some time. I needed to go to bed earlier. I had to set aside the many demands of the upcoming day. As I continue this practice, I have found that the stillness in the morning brings a calmness to the day. This is a practice. It is not a “doing it one week” and it is accomplished. Every day is a different experience. I have found this to be great preparation for working on my Fellowship. I am learning to let go of expectations and be present with what is in front of me. Presence is the most important quality. It allows me to be open to possibilities, ones that I never could have imagined.
I have added two other methods of self-care on a regular basis. In my clinical practice, I now walk around the building, going up and down the stairs each hour on the hour. Many people who work in this building have noticed. I have had many comments ranging from “I should do that” to “good for you.” The other self-care strategy I have added is done before I go to bed each night. I take time to reflect on my day. I ponder what I feel good about. The pressures and the need to “get to” items also come up. But I focus on what I have accomplished and what I am grateful for. This is a wonderful way to close my day.
I consider my meditation in the morning and reflecting in the evening “my bookends.” These help keep me balanced and aware of what is important. Thank you, Bush Foundation, for requiring this thoughtful awareness each day.
I have learned to challenge myself to think bigger and more boldly, not focusing on limitations or what I don’t know. The Fellowship is about taking leaps, trusting you can and will find the path. These are the things that my journey has taught me so far.
The opportunity that is provided through the Bush Fellowship is so much more than I ever imagined. The application process was intense and challenging. As I moved through the application levels, being challenged to think bigger and broader brought me to think in a way that I had never contemplated. I was also challenged to think how much my leadership can bring to our community. What an opportunity and gift to be asked those questions.
It is such an honor to have been selected to work on my leadership ability, focusing on giving back to the community. This has been my purpose in life, but on a much smaller scale. The Fellowship has now provided me with the opportunity to learn more, and stretch myself with the goal to give more.
My focus is end-of-life. I came to this focus through my own personal experience of living through the diagnosis of stage 4 ovarian cancer. I was not expected to live. I was told, twice, to prepare to die. When I lived, I had the opportunity to consciously think about how I wanted to live my life. I needed to determine what my priorities were and how I would put them into practice. I was in graduate school working on dual PhD’s when I was diagnosed. I changed my career path from becoming a research professor to direct clinical practice. I have specialized in working with individuals, and their family members, who have a life-threatening diagnosis.
Throughout the many years I have done this work I have come to realize that health care students are not being trained in end-of-life skills. This creates a difficult situation when a patient’s medical treatment is no longer helpful. It is at this juncture that end-of-life skills are critically important for the healthcare team. The professionals need to know how to help the individual and their loved ones change their focus toward a healing, loving end-of-life. When the health care professionals are not trained, these important conversations do not always occur. This can lead to more grief for those still living.
Now, through my Bush Fellowship, I have an opportunity to create an end-of-life curriculum for health care students that is inclusive of different cultural, religious and spiritual practices. This will help health care students bring this skill set with them as they move into their professional practices.
This Bush Fellowship is allowing me to expand my thinking and challenges me to find ways that my personal and professional knowledge can be bridged for the benefit of our community. In just six months, I know that this Fellowship is taking me beyond what I thought was “beyond my dreams.” So many people have been willing to help me. I have found a community of other Fellows that I look forward to learning from as I get to know them over the 24 months.
Soon I will be leaving to go to a Conference,” Dent the Future,” that the Bush Foundation is offering to us Fellows as an extra learning opportunity. Six Fellows from my 2017 cohort are going together. It is a wonderful opportunity to be able to learn from nationally known leaders and be with other Fellows. The other Fellows have so very much to offer our community with the work they are doing through their Fellowships. But they also offer me learning through their approaches to their topic, even though they may be very different from my own. I am learning much from the strategies they are using.
Through this Fellowship I will be interviewing elders and persons of knowledge from different religious, spiritual and cultural perspectives. I have spent the past four months preparing for these interviews by learning about and writing the consent of participation, and determining the questions to ask. These questions are designed to bring out the essence of their belief system that is critical for the health care students to know, so they may respectfully discuss end-of-life with individuals who have that belief system. I have researched and found the best way to record the interviews, and have found someone who will be able to transcribe the interviews and maintain confidentiality. There was much for me to learn as I prepared for the interviews.
I have had several “practice” interviews. These people were willing to meet with me, go through the interview, and then provide me feedback. This has helped me prepare for the depth of emotion during these conversations. When a person has a safe place to discuss death, all their experiences around death come forward. And since we don’t generally have these conversations, once the opening is provided, there are many stories and memories that can be conveyed. I have found in these practice interviews and in my clinical practice, when these conversations occur, healing happens. These practice interviews have deepened my commitment to the Fellowship.
I have also begun meeting with people that have been involved in end-of-life care. I have met with people in palliative care and hospice. I have been reading current research articles and many books to help me know the information that is known and the gaps in information. I have found research that substantiates what I have experienced in my clinical practice, i.e., health care professionals are not comfortable or do not know how to approach end-of-life conversations with their patients and their loved ones. This can result in harmful impacts for both the patient and their loved ones.
I have found the community has actively begun addressing these issues. Churches, synagogues, mosques, television stations, television shows, blogs, and radio programs, to name a few, have created different forms of this conversation. What seems to be lacking is consistent end-of-life skill training for health care students.
I know, because I have worked with them, that there are many amazing health care professionals that do have these conversations. Currently, however, they are the exception. Through my Fellowship I want to make it the prevailing response.
With the gift of the Bush Fellowship combined with my passion, my hope is that all individuals have a respectful and conscious approach to their death, so they may have the conversations with their loved ones. To say goodbye and be able to decide what is important in their physical leaving and what is important from their belief system. I also hope for healthcare professionals to feel confident in guiding the conversation from a treatment focus to focusing on quality of life at the end-of-life, creating an environment for healing and closure for all involved.
I have learned in my clinical practice that when there is an opportunity to say goodbye to loved ones prior to their death, the impact on the grieving process in very positive. Grief will always be present when a loved one dies. But, to not have regrets when a loved one dies, is highly beneficial.
I don’t think I can express enough gratitude to the Bush Foundation for receiving the Bush Fellowship. The only way I believe I can say” thank you” is through giving all that I can to this Fellowship, practicing self-care so that I can sustain this work long after my Fellowship is over.