Last year, Emory medical student William McDonald II (M4) received a Fulton Co. Elder Health Scholarship, confirming his passion for working with seniors. The son of a geriatric psychiatrist, McDonald was interested in working with older adults from a young age. But it was the combination of being mentored by Emory geriatrician Dr. Thomas Price and being awarded a 2016 Fulton Co. Elder Health Scholarship that inspired McDonald to combine geriatrics and palliative care into a Discovery project on code status discussions that will give elderly patients more control over their end-of-life plans. For the next six months, he will be working on an Emory cancer unit, most likely at Emory University Hospital, reviewing charts to make sure that each patient has had a code status discussion and has advance directives in place. He will also interview nurses to see if they’d like more training in facilitating difficult discussions about end-of-life issues and if they can identify any barriers to getting the correct code status entered on a patient’s chart. “Obviously, in emergencies, you might have to do something without the patient’s permission, but the best time to have these discussions is before you become very sick, so that you can make the decisions that are right for you,” says McDonald.
The Elder Health Scholarship is the key that unlocked McDonald’s future plans, partially because of the funding to travel to the American Geriatrics Society’s (AGS) annual meeting. “There are great geriatricians at Emory, and they are all wonderful resources, but to see the latest research and innovative clinical practices on a national level really inspired me. It wasn’t easy to make it to the meeting because I had to get permission to miss classes, but I’m so glad I did. Being able to attend the meeting and then having six months protected for research is a unique and invaluable opportunity for a medical student.”
At the AGS meeting, McDonald met geriatricians from all over the country, including those doing home health care – an idea he finds very appealing: “Geriatricians are practicing 1800s-style bedside medicine updated for the 21st century, and it’s a great model for both geriatrics and palliative care. It’s all about home health and treating the whole patient.” McDonald also joined the LGBTQ+ interest group, which gave him a different angle on meeting the needs of the rapidly growing 65+ population in the United States. “As you get older, your support network of family and friends shrinks. It’s really important to have a safety net that recognizes the unique needs of individual patients.”
McDonald joined the AGS Student Leadership Council, which is active all year via an online forum. McDonald was also elected Palliative Care Clerkship Coordinator by his Emory classmates, and he’s hard at work with one of his mentors, Palliative Care Clerkship Director Dr. Kari Esbensen, to create a new curriculum for chronic pain management and a handbook for students to carry on the wards.
McDonald loves the interdisciplinary nature of geriatrics and the way that patient-centered care involves a team of health care professionals making sure the patient’s wishes are honored. “My life’s goal,” McDonald says, “is to make sure every one of my elderly patients leaves this world on their own terms.”
- Emory University Division of General Medicine and Geriatrics
- Emory Section of Geriatrics and Gerontology
- Emory University Department of Medicine
- Fulton Co. Medical Center Scholarships
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