Medical Ethics, Aging, and End of Life Care in the US

EDUC277S

"It's a very odd thing that we've decided as a culture that the one thing we know is going to happen to all of us, which is we're going to die someday, we don't talk about," says Professor Gheith, who teaches Medical Ethics, Aging, and End of Life Care in the US.

"And if we don't talk about it, it doesn't make it better. So how do we make it better?"

Through readings, written reflections, and work in the community, this course blends personal and academic reflections on medical ethics, policy, clinical, and personal issues in working with dying and bereaved people. There is a focus on diverse populations in ethnicity, culture, socioeconomic status, education, sexual orientation, and more. Various models for providing care to the dying and bereaved will be explored.

The service-learning aspect of the course includes visits from Hospice practitioners and doctors, field trips to funeral home and to Duke Hospice where the professor is a social worker.  

"The thing that makes me happiest is when students come back from a placement and say things like 'Old people rock!', because they're not expecting it. Because we have very few places, except maybe with your grandparents, where students and elderly people interact. And this creates the space for that to happen," says Gheith.

"Students will think about how to effect change in aging policy, how to be doctors--not just in terms of chemistry and science--but in terms of relationship. I have had students come back from medical school interviews and say 'All we did was talk about your class.'  So it has helped students. One went on to be a Rhodes scholar, others went on to Harvard med school, Stanford and other great places, so it has helped motivated students. So as difficult as the course is initially for people to come to terms with, it really gives them a lot," says Gheith. 

Students have the option of doing a traditional research paper on a topic that they care about, or the option to develop creative projects such as paintings, websites, podcasts, videos, etc. 

"I think students are often surprised, because we're talking about death and dying, they don't expect it to be fun. Actually it's really important to process through drawing, to process through acting.  Just because you're talking about this topic that we don't talk about, it doesn't mean your sense of humor has to go out the window," says Gheith.

Read a former Service-Learning Assistant's perspective on the class here and watch the video below learn more about the course.