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Examining the generational gap between physicians and patients in hospice and palliative care

A story today in the San Jose Mercury News examines the challenges faced by young hospice and palliative care physicians, many of whom are in their early to mid-30s, in treating patients that are typically 30 years their senior.

In the piece, April Dembosky explains the driving forces behind the specialty's generational gap, programs such as Stanford's Hospice and Palliative Medicine Fellowship that are helping medical students and recent graduates gain the necessary skills to more effectively communicate and treat patients, and the approaches that some young doctors take to overcome the age differences. She writes:

About 12 percent of the doctors certified in hospice and palliative care in 2010 are now 36 or younger, according to the latest data available from the American Board of Medical Specialties. That percentage doubled in two years and is expected to dramatically grow under new rules that prevent older doctors from being grandfathered into the specialty. Starting this year, doctors must complete a one-year training fellowship in palliative medicine, a position that offers a meager salary that few mid-career doctors will opt for.

Stanford's fellowship program is one of about 70 similar programs formed in recent years, and among the first launched.

As much as they gain medical skills and knowledge, trainees say they learn how to handle themselves with patients, either by assuming the role of a grandchild or just being humble.

"Sometimes it is scary to know you are much younger than your patient," said Domingo Maynes, 30, a resident with the program. "But by putting myself in their shoes and talking to the family, I can start to wrap my hands around the intangibles."

Previously: Documentary film captures story of Korean War veteran turned health-care advocate

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