This has, paradoxically, been one of the hardest posts for me to write – I like to think of my blog here as being about animal hospice in general, and my patients in particular, and not about myself. At the same time, it’s also one of the most important in its own way.
Last month I was honored beyond words can express to graduate as a member of the inaugural class of Certified Hospice and Palliative Care Veterinarians. After a year and a half of studying and working together, hands-on seminars and techniques laboratories, extensive training, case studies, and more tests than I’ve taken in almost 20 years, I stood up with some 50 other veterinarians to be recognized as the world’s first formally trained and certified hospice practitioners.
This is important in so many different ways. It’s important for me, and my patients and my community, because it means I have both the foundation and the network to provide the best possible care and support for them. The friends and colleagues I’ve found as part of this journey will always be there for me, and we can share our experiences, knowledge, and training to practice even better medicine. It also means that I have an obligation to share my own learning to help other vets in the community – the more I know the more I can help them, and improve the quality of life for pets and their caregivers across the board.
But beyond just my own patients and community, this is a huge milestone for the field of veterinary medicine as a whole. Until now, animal hospice has been largely unknown. Even most other vets have been unaware of hospice as a resource, and many who have heard of it haven’t understood what exactly hospice does. It’s often seen as ‘just giving up,’ or dismissed as nothing more than pain medicine – a drastic mischaracterization of the complex and diverse ways that hospice can help both people and pets.
With this program, we now have an official set of standards for animal hospice. We can point to our curriculum and say, “This is what hospice is, and what we do. This is what a veterinarian who practices hospice medicine can be expected to know, to offer, and to do. We are more than just providers of pain medicine and euthanasia.” With this, we can – and will – reach out even further to both pet caregivers and other veterinarians, to make sure that eventually every pet has the option of choosing hospice care when the time comes and that every new vet tech and vet student is trained in this field as much as they are in surgery, internal medicine, and pharmacology.
So, far from being the end of a journey for me, becoming certified is just the first step. My path from here is one of continued learning (I have already enrolled in an Apprenticeship in Herbal Medicine for 2018), but now it is one of teaching as well as I take on the role of educating others about what hospice is, and how we help.
And of course, I can’t write this without expressing my gratitude to my teachers, my fellow students, my family, and most of all my patients and caregivers – you have taught me (and continue to teach me) so much more than any lecture or class ever could, an