First-of-a-kind residency in Mankato helps physician from Bolivia bring hospice care lessons to her native country

Brenda Toboada Ovando, M.D., Betsy Bolint, Jennifer Derrick, M.D., and Jacek Soroka, Ph.D.

A chance encounter with a Mayo Clinic chaplain at a conference in Costa Rica brought Dr. Brenda Toboada Ovando from Bolivia to Mankato, Minnesota. She's taking the lessons in hospice care she learned at Mayo Clinic Health System back to Bolivia.

At her temporary post in Mankato, Brenda Toboada Ovando, M.D., was far from her home in Bolivia. But what she learned during a special three-week residency at Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato will go a long way toward helping people receive end-of-life care in her native country.

She got a taste of life in America along the way, as well.

It all began during the South American Palliative Care Congress in Costa Rica when Dr. Toboada Ovando was seated at a table next to Jacek Soroka, Ph.D., from Chaplaincy Services at Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato. Soroka was at the conference presenting a poster.

During their conversation, Soroka learned about cultural practices that limited the availability of hospice care in many South American countries, especially in Bolivia. Making hospice care an integral part of health care can be challenging. Death and dying are not discussed openly in Bolivian culture.

On returning to the U.S., Soroka learned about funding available through the Mayo Clinic Global Health Program's Small Grants Program. The program funds projects that are focused on global health and educating health care professionals abroad.

With funds secured, Soroka got together with Jennifer Derrick, M.D., a palliative medicine physician, and Betsy Bolint, a nurse practitioner in palliative medicine, to create a three-week hospice residency tailored toward Dr. Toboada Ovando's specific interests. The program is the first of its kind at Mayo Clinic.

Whe she arrived in Mankato, Dr. Toboada Ovando shadowed hospice and palliative care professionals, chaplains, case managers, social workers and others on their hospice visits. She spent time with volunteer coordinators and bereavement coordinators to learn more about their roles in caring for hospice patients.

Dr. Brenda Toboada Ovando, center, enjoys a meal at a colleague's farm.

Dr. Toboada Ovando also got to experience good old-fashioned Midwestern hospitality. Staff in Mankato made her feel welcome by organizing dinners and parties so she could learn more about American customs and ways of living. Others took her to lunches, on tours of Mankato and local state parks, and even a trip to Minneapolis.

Soroka says he is grateful that Mayo staff were generous in welcoming Dr. Toboado Ovando and opening the doors to their homes so that she could experience life in the U.S.

After her second week working with Mayo patients and watching providers deliver compassionate, necessary care, Dr. Toboada Ovando says what she was witnessing was "magic."

"Hearing the patients and how hospice care really helps them, it's the reason for everything and makes me say, ‘Yes, this is the way I want to go,'" she says.

Dr. Toboada Ovando plans to bring what she learned back to Bolivia and hopes to expand access to hospice and palliative care services there.

Hospice care around the world needs champions like Dr. Toboada Ovando, Dr. Derrick says.

"You need somebody who loves it and somebody who says this is a worthwhile endeavor," Dr. Derrick says.