‘It’s truly an honor to be the first graduates’: Three complete hospice nurse residency

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Lauren Overbay gives a speech Monday after receiving her certificate for graduating from the hospice nurse residency program at Hawaii Care Choices in Hilo.

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Hawaii Care Choices CEO Brenda S. Ho talks about the need for the hospice nurse residency program during the first graduation in Hilo on Monday.

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Kristen Ishii hugs Mayor Mitch Roth Monday after receiving her certificate for graduating from the hospice nurse residency program at Hawaii Care Choices in Hilo.

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Kristen Ishii gives a speech Monday after receiving her certificate for graduating from the hospice nurse residency program at Hawaii Care Choices in Hilo.

Hawaii Care Choices celebrated a milestone as they graduated three students from the state’s first hospice nurse residency program on Monday morning.

As most nurses graduate from residency programs in hospitals, many of them do not have experience working in palliative care, hospice care or bereavement care.

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“It’s imperative that the people of this island have access to the highest quality care at the end of their life,” said CEO Brenda S. Ho “Many new graduates don’t have experience in hospice, so to ask them to come be a member of this team and serve with us has been a challenge.”

Ho and Clinical Director Helene Andrews put their heads together to figure out the best way to recruit, train and bring people to Hawaii Care Choices to meet the mission and serve patients.

Andrews and a team of many made the program possible, according to Ho.

“By having the program, nurses can immerse themselves in specialty care and learn how to best take care of our families on the island,” Andrews said. “We will be taking what our first graduates have given us to keep making the program better than before.”

Hawaii Care Choices graduated three students, Kristen Ishii, Lauren Overbay and Sabrina Stone, but Stone was not in attendance.

Ishii decided to pursue hospice care after experiencing it through her aunty.

“I didn’t understand it as much back then, so as a worker now I try to really be there for the family and support them,” Ishii said. “It’s challenging, but helping people through care is a blessing and I’ve realized that life is precious.”

Overbay applied for a few programs before finding Hawaii Care Choices, where everything started to fall into place.

“This kind of caregiving really became natural for me,” Overbay said. “It’s hard for people to talk about death and dying and hospice can be portrayed as scary. After my training, I want to approach these topics with families through compassion and peace instead of fear.”

Overbay was also excited to be the first graduates of the hospice care program in Hawaii.

“We have a vision for what we want the residency program to be and it’s truly an honor to be the first graduates,” Overbay said. “We want to give back to the next students and hopefully mentor them since we know where they’ve been.”

Councilmembers Aaron Chung, Maile David and Matt Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder spoke at the graduation and expressed their gratitude to the graduates as many of them have seen Hawaii Care Choices grow over the years.

“The fact this changed from Hospice of Hilo to Hawaii Care Choices is reflective of the development of this organization,” Chung said. “It wasn’t just about hospice, it’s branched out into many other areas. You keep giving, expanding and making it great.”

David reflected on her experience with hospice when her mother passed 25 years ago.

“It warms my heart to see these young ladies, who have made the choice to make this their journey in life,” David said. “You don’t realize the great gratitude you will impose on families who have experienced a loss of a loved one and had to be there until they were gone.”

Mayor Mitch Roth also expressed his gratitude to the three graduates and commended them for staying to serve their home state of Hawaii.

“To see these graduates from the state of Hawaii continue to serve our community is truly amazing,” Roth said. “Becoming a hospice nurse takes a special kind of person and knowing you have graduated from this program means you are special people.”

Ishii and Overbay received plenty of hugs and overall gratitude after the small, outdoor ceremony.

“Thank you for choosing us and for choosing our mission,” Ho said during her speech. “Thank you for being willing to learn how to be an amazing provider of this kind of care.”

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Hawaii Care Choices has admitted seven more nursing graduates from the University of Hawaii at Hilo Nursing Program for the second class and they are in full swing in the comprehensive program.

Email Kelsey Walling at kwalling@hawaiitribune-herald.com

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