Scholar named for Woltman Endowed Fellowship in Health Communications

Rebecca Critser, a graduate student pursuing a Juris Doctor in conjunction with a health law certificate at the Robert H. McKinney School of Law as well as a Master of Arts in philosophy from the Department of Philosophy in the IU School of Liberal Arts at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, has been selected as the recipient of the Richard and Kaye Woltman Endowed Fellowship in Health Communications for the 2017-18 academic year in recognition of her endeavors in bioethics, philosophy and health care law.

Critser earned her Bachelor of Science in animal behavior at Bucknell University and worked in the biotech industry before coming to IUPUI. In the spring of 2016, she began an externship at the Fairbanks Center for Medical Ethics, where she met Susan Hickman, co-director of the Research in Palliative and End-of-Life Communication and Training Center -- or RESPECT Center -- and one of the two directors of the Woltman fellowship.

"Dr. Hickman and I conducted a review of all Physician Orders for Scope of Treatment forms, a tool used to document patient preferences for end-of-life care, currently in use throughout the United States. The goal is to help strengthen this already valuable tool. The externship was nearing its end, but now, through this fellowship, I can continue that work and gain valuable insight into the difficulties encountered by health care professionals who provide end-of-life care as well as the patients they serve," said Critser.

The Richard and Kaye Woltman Endowed Fellowship in Health Communications is a one-year endowed fellowship of $5,000 that enables a graduate student with an interest in palliative and end-of-life communications to attain a higher understanding of strategies to improve communication with seriously ill patients and their loved ones. By developing current students through this fellowship, the Woltman family, the RESPECT Center and the IU School of Nursing hope to promote excellence and build upon positive communication with the next generation of nurses and caregivers.

This program is supported through a generous gift from the Richard and Kaye Woltman family and is directed by IU School of Nursing adjunct faculty member Lucia D. Wocial, in collaboration with School of Nursing professor Hickman.

"Rebecca was selected as the next Woltman scholar due to her commitment to bioethics and the law and her desire to improve patient care at a policy level," Wocial said. "She values and recognizes the human lives behind the ethical issues that she studies, and she brings a powerful combination of care and concern for justice to the work we do."

Over the next year, Critser will attend the RESPECT Center's monthly meetings as well as the RESPECT Conference on March 3 in Carmel, Indiana. She will support the work of the Woltman Inter-professional Communication Scholars Program, or WISP, an innovative training program for health care providers who want to improve teamwork with colleagues and advance communication skills with patients and families. She will also assist with other details related to the RESPECT Center and WISP, as well as produce regular reports detailing activities that contribute to her ongoing development in the area of palliative and end-of-life communication.

"I am excited to be able to contribute to the work that Dr. Hickman and Dr. Wocial are doing at the RESPECT Center," Critser said. "And, thanks to the Woltman family, I can continue to acquire this valuable knowledge and a better understanding of end-of-life care. They are lessons that I will carry into the future work I do as an ethicist and a lawyer."

This fellowship will exist in perpetuity, continuing to enable graduate students to focus their studies on communication during end-of-life and palliative care in the hopes of a brighter future for caregiver-patient relationships.

The RESPECT Center, founded in July 2010, is one of eight official campus-level signature centers. This prestigious honor recognizes the tremendous success of the RESPECT Center in supporting faculty in obtaining funding as well as in growing the national reputation of IUPUI and Indiana University for expertise in palliative and end-of-life care.

The Indiana University School of Nursing is nationally recognized for research across the life span, involving healthy populations, chronic illness management, and palliative and end-of-life care in addition to the most effective ways to educate nurses.

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