Caylon Pettis: 2023 Doctors for Dignity Intern

July 25, 2023
caylon pettis headshot

Caylon Pettis

Question: How did you get involved with this internship and how did you find out about Compassion & Choices?


One of my good friends was the person that got me involved. We were voting on medical aid in dying for the Illinois State Medical Society (ISMS) and they mentioned that they knew a medical student that’s interested in palliative care and medical politics. I was introduced to Dr. Thoman and together we contacted medical students and talked to people in the ISMS. The resolution was voted for and it passed to move to a neutral position for medical aid in dying. From that experience I realized that this is a really interesting topic to me, I’m really passionate about quality of life and giving people choices. After that, Dr. Thoman offered me the internship and one thing led to another.

Question: Where did you grow up and what led you to your career path as a medical student?


I’m from Memphis, Tennessee born and raised by a single mom. My mom and my little sister were my family, but we had close relationships with our extended family: my grandmother, my grandparents, and my auntie. I spent most of my childhood with my grandmother and she was one of the main people who influenced my direction in life. What caused me to go into medicine was that I would go to my grandmother’s appointments, and the physicians wouldn’t listen to my grandmother and her complaints. It upset me because she had a degenerative eye disease where she was losing sight and she needed a procedure for the loss to stop. By the time they okayed the procedure,10,15 years down the line, she had lost so much sight that it wasn’t even worth doing. That encouraged me to approach medicine in a more shared decision-making model.

It influenced me to approach medicine not just as a job, but more as a calling, to talk to people about how they feel, how they navigate through life and their stressors. To understand them so we can overcome what is ailing them together. A lot of times we don’t create the relationships we need in medicine to not only inspire our patients to do what they need to do, but to encourage them during their everyday life.

Question: What are you looking forward to in the internship and do you anticipate any challenges in connecting with people who have never heard of Compassion & Choices or aren’t aware of the mission?


I want to go back to back to Memphis and do a presentation on end-of-life care. I’m really excited to be able to take this information and give people back home a choice about how they want to die and what it means going through that process. It’s such a complex issue; you want to give people choices, but on the other side you have supportive family members who want their family to be well. I do expect to have some dissonance when it comes to talking about these things because we really don’t talk about death like that. Especially when it comes to chronic issues. We just expect that one day people will go back to being the healthy person they were. People should know that they have options and be able to make choices based on those options. To know what an advance directive is and to know that they can say this is what I want my care to be like and I’m going to put someone in charge of my care.

I’m most excited to help overcome the barrier of being undereducated on these topics. I know it won’t be an easy job, it’s a scary topic anytime we talk about death. People’s environments and the way people perceive death influence how they experience death and especially the death of others. People don’t trust doctors because of things that doctors have done in the past. That’s another level, another barrier that we’re going to have to work through. I’m excited to build these relationships because I feel like this is the medium that you can overcome those barriers. The only way you build trust is to go out there and talk to people and answer their questions and not brush them off.

Question: Outside of work and school, what keeps your interest? How do you spend your free time?


In my free time I love listening to music. I like old-school ‘70s and ‘80s soul music. I’m a big anime fan and I love playing video games. I really enjoy my relationships with my friends, so I try to find time to go eat and talk about life and philosophy. I’m really big into nature; I like to garden and grow my own food when I have time down in Memphis. It just kind of reminds you that you’re just a piece of the whole pie and that you’re really connected to everything and every living thing. I feel like a lot of the time we don’t sit back and reflect about how all of our experiences bind us together, how we’re connected with the earth and we’re connected with the animals and how we’re all part of the circle of life like Lion King says. I really enjoy being thoughtful about those things because with this medical education it gets a little stressful and sometimes you just have to take yourself out of it. Go for a walk, look up at the sun and be like, you know, today is a good day.

Compassion & Choices
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Sean Crowley
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Patricia A. González-Portillo
National Latino Media Director
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(323) 819 0310

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