Year: Doctoral Student
Major: Health Services Research
Hometown: Lexington, Kentucky
The thought of hospice care can stir up many emotions, including grief, fear, or dread. But what about peace, comfort, or courage? As a former hospice chaplain, Arion Lillard-Green, MHA Health Systems Management ’21, has probably seen–and felt—all of these. When she started her doctoral program at Mason, Lillard-Green brought experience from a unique combination of disciplines: journalism, theology, and health administration. Her goal of earning a doctorate in health services research comes from a desire to bring these disciplines together to ask important questions that impact health policy.
Asking Deeper Questions: Lillard-Green studied journalism as an undergraduate because she enjoyed investigating issues and bringing truths to light. She then completed a master’s degree in theology, which pushed her to think more deeply about issues based on theological and philosophical principles. During seminary, Lillard- Green worked as a private caregiver for aging adults alongside hospice clinicians. This inspired her to complete a hospice chaplain residency program, where she spent a year learning the art of spiritual counseling in the hospital setting.
Providing Comfort: Lillard-Green spent 17 years working as a hospice chaplain. This sparked her interest in the health care field. “Although a career in health care wasn’t my initial goal, it somehow found its way into my work,” she says. She gained insight into the issues people face at the end of life: their spiritual and emotional needs and the physical realities of hospice and palliative care.
Facing Difficult Realities: Working in rural West Virginia and in Northern Virginia, she observed disparities in access to and quality of care. She counseled patients who were financially secure and who lived paycheck to paycheck. “The most significant lesson I learned during my time as a clinician is the reality that socioeconomic status determines the way we live, and it determines how we die,” Lillard-Green says.
Support for Her Work: In fall 2023 Lillard-Green earned a spot in the second cohort of the Public Voices Fellowship at AcademyHealth. This fellowship, conducted in collaboration with The OpEd Project, is dedicated to amplifying underrepresented voices in public health, research, and social justice.
Rethinking the End-of-Life Journey: Lillard-Green hopes that her research will help capture the degree to which hospice and palliative care providers are meeting the needs of patients and families, along with barriers to access. “We need to find ways to collect better, meaningful data to gain a well-rounded understanding of social risk factors,” she says. “The end-of-life journey should not start at the end of life. Unfortunately, aging and dying well is a privilege that needs to be extended to all persons earlier in the health care continuum.”
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