I’m sure it won’t shock you, as part of the Wexner network, that this story begins on a buffet line. This particular buffet line was at the David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem last summer. Before the Wexner Heritage Summer Institute was scheduled to begin that evening, I had arranged a few meetings to plan a new grant. My morning consisted of an appointment with Dr. Yafa Haron, head of the Nursing Research Unit at the Ministry of Health, a tour of a cancer hospital and lunch with Rabbi Miriam Berkowitz, head of Kashouvot, the Israeli pastoral care organization (and WGFA Rabbi Matt Berkowitz’s wife!). As I marveled at the personal-sized shakshuka, Angie Atkins, whom you know as Director of Wexner Heritage Alumni, was also getting breakfast and asked about my morning plans. She encouraged me to expand my contacts in Israel and the U.S. using the Wexner alumni network. I knew about the network. I just hadn’t thought about searching it for those who might share my professional interests.

I’m a palliative care researcher. Here I’m guessing that many of you are looking at your screen quizzically, and some of you are thinking I’m talking about hospice. Palliative care is specialized medical care for people who have a serious illness. It focuses on relieving pain and other symptoms, as well as the emotional, social and spiritual distress of patients and their family (read: whole person care). Palliative care is provided at the same time as curative or life-prolonging treatments, meaning it’s for people who are living, not just those who are dying. In fact, research shows that people who receive palliative care live longer and better than those who don’t. Know why? Because they feel better physically and emotionally, and when they feel better they are better able to undergo treatment.

Palliative care is provided by a team of health care professionals: physicians, nurses, social workers, chaplains and others, who work with one’s regular doctor as an extra layer of support. The team helps the patient and family know what to expect, understand the pros and cons of different treatment options and make decisions that match the patient’s goals and values to his or her health care. The best part is that the patient is like the quarterback of the team (I just impressed my husband), because it’s the patient’s priorities that determine the team’s plans.

So I searched the alumni network and found Dvora Goren, a Wexner Israel Fellowship alum, Class 5. Dvora is a former Deputy Director of the Nursing Division in the Ministry of Health and founded the first hospice in Israel. I emailed her and of course she knew the doctor I was scheduled to meet and graciously agreed to participate in the grant. The even happier ending is that the grant was funded, and we’ll be meeting in Israel this July to begin some research that we hope will expand palliative care infrastructure in Israel and lead to an ongoing Yale-Israel partnership. I am so looking forward to meeting Dvora in person, hearing about her experiences as a palliative care pioneer in Israel and getting her advice.

I’ve thought about why it didn’t occur to me to look up other palliative-minded folks in the Wexner database. I think it’s because while I am passionate about my work, it’s my work, and Wexner — well, Wexner is a layer of icing in my life. Insert the expression of having your cake and eating it, too. (Thank you, Angie!)

May we all be healthy and thrive, and when you have a need, be your own quarterback. Seek that extra layer of support and encourage others to do so as well. Take advantage of the team.

Dena Schulman-Green, a Wexner Heritage member (New England 14) is a research scientist in the Division of Acute Care and Health Systems at Yale School of Nursing. Dena received a BA in Psychology from Boston University, an MA and EdM in Counseling Psychology from Columbia University, and an MS and PhD in Gerontology from University of Massachusetts Boston. She completed a post-doctoral fellowship in Oncology and End-of-Life Care at Yale School of Nursing in 2002 and subsequently joined the faculty. Dena’s program of research focuses on timely integration of palliative care into self-management of chronic illness. Her work has been funded by the National Institutes of Health, the American Cancer Society and the National Palliative Care Research Center, among others. Dena resides in Woodbridge, Connecticut with her husband and four children. She can be reached at dschulmangreen@me.com.