Doctors' Day profile: James Ross, M.D., shares about how the pandemic has impacted palliative care

(March 30 is National Doctors’ Day. Utica Park Clinic would like to thank our physicians for the dedication and passion they show for their patients. In honor of National Doctors’ Day, we would like to spotlight palliative care specialist, James Ross, M.D.)

Palliative care typically plays a critical role in patient care. The COVID-19 pandemic only highlighted the importance this discipline plays in the hospital experience.

James Ross, M.D., who practices palliative care for Utica Park Clinic at Hillcrest Medical Center, said the pandemic has significantly impacted both him and his department.

“The pandemic has really highlighted both the need for and the importance of palliative care,” Ross said. “With so much suffering and loss of life caused by the pandemic, our palliative care team has been pushed to its limits. While some services saw fewer patients, the percentage of palliative care consults increased during the pandemic for us.”

Ross said one of the biggest challenges was how the pandemic changed the communication process.

“Palliative medicine providers often meet not only with patients to discuss goals of care, but we spend much time discussing very difficult topics, often with several family members at one time,” he said. “Pre-pandemic, these were almost always in person or at bedside. During the pandemic, we had to resort to telephone conference calls. It really pushed our abilities as effective communicators. So much of what we do in palliative care has to do with coming alongside the patients and families who have to sometimes make very difficult decisions.”

Palliative care patients had limited contact with friends and loved ones. Ross said these difficult circumstances have presented some unexpected opportunities for he and his colleagues.

“No one should die alone, but the humanity and love that was often displayed, by my team members, Hillcrest nurses, staff and other providers was inspiring,” he said. “I saw people taking the time to hold a patient’s hand, offer comfort, dignity and respect at end of life. The gift of presence is powerful.”

Ross said the pandemic has left a lasting impression on him, both personally and professionally.

“I saw my gifts as a physician and communicator being amplified, but also more of my fears and frustrations as well,” he said. “The result has been growth on many levels. I am learning that, while there are painful things that we experience in this life, if we lean in and learn, even from the pain, we can still grow and things can work together for our good and the good of humanity.”