GVSU announces new Traverse City hospice care program

Sarah Hollis

How often do most people take the time to think about death or life-limiting illness? These are subjects that are often avoided in conversation and education due to the difficulties involved in addressing them among larger groups of people. 

Grand Valley State University began a program to fill this gap after a 2014 report by the Institute of Medicine highlighted several improvements that could be made to palliative and hospice care for patients and their families. This program is the interprofessional palliative and hospice care certificate program.

“When you’re dealing with sensitive issues such as death and dying, you want to make sure that you’re able to offer really high-impact, robust conversation around those,” said Karen Burritt, associate dean for graduate programs in the Kirkhof College of Nursing. “It’s not the type of thing that lends itself well to 50 people in a classroom.”

GVSU will offer the program in the winter 2018 semester at the Northwestern Michigan College University Center in Traverse City, Michigan. The location was a strategic decision made by university administration.

“We understand that there’s a systematic difference in the way persons in more rural areas don’t have access to more specialty care that we have in the urban areas, such as Grand Rapids,” Burritt said. “So being able to offer it on-site in Traverse City is really something unique and special for the northern areas of Michigan.” 

The certificate is only available for students and professionals who already have a bachelor’s degree, but it isn’t limited to only professions in health care. 

“It’s a graduate level course, so basically, the entry requirement is already holding a bachelor’s degree of some kind,” said Robert Johnson, visiting professor in the Kirkhof College of Nursing. “It’s either going to be graduate students or people who have already completed college and are working in their field.”

Burritt also said the program is not limited to health care professionals.

“It is very much interprofessional, so it’s not just nurses or physicians,” she said. “Any person who is caring for people with hospice or palliative care needs would benefit from it. So, we’re talking physicians, nurses, physicians’ assistants, social workers, pharmacists and clergy would be the main people we’re targeting for this certificate.”

There are four courses required for the certificate, and they are hybrid courses. This means that the classes will only meet in person a few times during the semester and the rest will all be online. 

“It’s designed so that somebody could complete it in one calendar year,” Johnson said. “The two courses in the nursing school are offered in the fall and winter. The social work course is, I believe, offered in the spring and summer, and then the electives are scattered through the year.”

This program is important for any profession that has any influence on or contact with people in need of hospice and palliative care. 

“From the point of view of the availability of palliative care clinicians, there’s recognized to be a shortage in our area and across the country, too,” Johnson said. “It’s expected that in the next few years, there will be increasing demand for that as the population ages and more people deal with chronic and serious illnesses and deal with end-of-life issues.”

Burritt also believes these courses discuss some very important topics.

“The people who live with life-limiting illness or hospice and palliative care, they have a lot of social and emotional needs, as well as symptom management needs, that these courses dive very deep into, understanding all the disease states and understanding the needs of the patients and the support that the patients’ families would need,” she said.

Individuals who would like more information about the interprofessional palliative and hospice care certificate program can contact Linda Buck at [email protected] or 616-331-7160. Those interested in applying for the program can visit www.gvsu.edu/phc/ to apply online.