Doctors for Dignity Celebrates its First Intern

At the end of a short but powerful summer, Doctors for Dignity’s (D4D) is celebrating its first end-of-life disparities internship, in partnership with the Student National Medical Association. Sydney Reed, a medical student at Ross School of Medicine, began her internship in July with the goal of researching end-of-life disparities and sharing her knowledge with others.  If you had the opportunity to read our first interview with her in June, you may remember that Sydney’s late grandfather inspired her to become a doctor, along with her family physician turned mentor. Her grandfather’s peaceful death in hospice, along with a colleague who had a palliative care rotation, inspired her to connect with Compassion & Choices at a Student National Medical Association (SNMA) conference, where the internship was sponsored.  The SNMA is a branch of the National Medical Association (NMA), which is the largest and oldest national organization representing African American physicians and their patients in the United States. There are more than 30,000 members.  During her internship, Sydney learned more about hospice, palliative medicine and advanced care planning. She has presented the information to numerous community groups and become a passionate spokesperson for empowering Black patients to advocate for their care.  “It has been a pleasure working with Sydney and watching her grow and develop as a health professional. I know that the insights she has gained will stay with her throughout her career” said Dr. Rebecca Thoman, Doctors for Dignity Director.  Sydney jumped into the internship quickly, finding opportunities to meet with various organizations, including her fellow SNMA members, and a local NAACP chapter.  Naturally, I was nervous for my first presentation, but by my sixth presentation, it felt natural,” Sydney said. “I am overjoyed by the feedback and impact that I have had thus far. I’m still getting emails about it!”  For Sydney, one outreach experience in particular stood out; the one she gave at her very own church, allowing for a truly special conversation.  My grandmother was in attendance, and she learned what palliative medicine was and the benefits. After the presentation, she told me that her insurance had mentioned a new program that they were offering but she wasn’t sure what it was.”  It turned out the new insurance program supported palliative medicine. “It is my belief that if she hadn’t attended my presentation, she probably would’ve declined the offer,” Sydney said.  Sydney also spoke on the importance of finding a doctor you see yourself in, and her belief that your physician should, in an ideal world, be a person who feels safe enough to share your secrets with. That means, she says, you need a doctor you trust to tell you the truth, including details of end-of-life care that many would rather not think about.  “We need to start talking about [death] sooner, and stop making it a taboo conversation.” Sydney said. “It keeps us scared. With COVID for example, the African American community was hit the hardest and we lost a lot of people. Many died alone and their families say ‘I didn't know what they wanted. We never talked about it. Or we didn't talk about it until it was too late.’”  “And that’s why we need more Black doctors,” Sydney smiled. Because if you can connect with someone who understands your community, she said, you can share your worries and questions without fear. “This first experience with a Doctors for Dignity intern was a great success.” Dr. Thoman said.  “We look forward to continuing our partnership with the Student National Medical Association in educating future doctors early in their careers about inequities in end-of-life care.”  Read more about our work with underserved communities and start a conversation of your own with our full suite of end-of-life planning tools.