Dialysis companions: Students get to know patients, another view of health care

Medical students Colleen Fei, left, and Megan Harris are volunteer companions at the University Dialysis Center. (PHOTO BY JIM McKEEVER)

Medical students Colleen Fei, left, and Megan Harris are volunteer companions at the University Dialysis Center. (PHOTO BY JIM McKEEVER)

BY JIM McKEEVER

A program sponsored by Upstate’s Center for Civic Engagement matches student companions with patients at the University Dialysis Center, a short walk from campus.

The patients – most of whom undergo treatment three days a week, four hours at a time – appreciate having a student to talk to or play games with.

The students enjoy developing friendships with the patients. They commit to weekly or biweekly visits of an hour or 90 minutes.

“My patient was shy at first,” says Megan Harris, who is in her second year of medical school. “He’s an older man with cool life stories. Once I got him talking, I’d listen and reflect on what he was saying.

“Sometimes we talk about my life, and what I may be stressing about that week. He’s always appreciative. He’ll tell me, ‘You have no idea how much better this makes it when you’re here.’” Harris typically visits at 6 to 7 a.m., before her classes.

Classmate Colleen Fei makes her visits on Saturdays. Fie says most patients like talking about anything other than dialysis. Time spent listening “tells you a lot about health care outside the minutiae of medicine. The patients face other barriers besides kidney disease. They also provide their perspective of health care — what makes a good doctor or a bad doctor.”

Harris says she feels for the patients who don’t have visitors. “I wish I could talk to all of them,” she said. “I love my classmates, but it’s nice to talk to someone on the other end of health care.”

Upstate Health magazine winter 2018 coverThis article appears in the winter 2018 issue of Upstate Health magazine.

 

 

 

 

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