Doctors for Dignity is a community of physicians from across the country speaking out in support for a full range of options at the end of life, including medical aid in dying. We advocate to reduce end-of-life disparities and bring the voice of medicine to public policy debates.  Sign up today.
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Meet Mikaela Swann, the 2022 Doctors for Dignity End-of-Life Disparities Intern

Mikaela's headshot in her white coat. Her coat says

Compassion & Choices is excited to welcome Mikaela Swann as the new End-of-Life Disparities Intern with our Doctors for Dignity program. Mikaela recently completed her first year of medical school at Howard University in Washington, D.C. She will be joining us for the summer to explore end-of-life disparities in the healthcare system and support our outreach efforts with our physician advocates. To introduce Mikaela to our organization, Compassion & Choices staff connected with her in an interview to learn more about her interests and what drew her to this internship. 

Both Mikaela’s professional resume and personal life experiences demonstrate a long history of helping others, which informs her passion for medicine and her future aspirations to practice gerontology. Growing up in Yorktown, Virginia, she spent a lot of time working with her family and providing care to her grandma and great grandma. In her own words, she “had the pleasure of caring for my grandparents. I grew up with a love and appreciation for them, and for being able to care for them.” She recounts a specific instance when her great-grandma’s nurse aid was unavailable, so it was up to Mikaela to help her great-grandma get to bed. She described the process of caring for her as “such an act of respect, to be able to give [my great-grandma] this act of kindness and service.”  

Mikaela’s experience providing care for her family influenced her desire to help others in the professional realm. As she put it, “I always knew I wanted to help people, but you can help people by doing a lot of different things.” In high school, she took a strong liking to her science classes, and she specifically credits her AP Biology teacher for helping spark her interest in anatomy and health studies. And that’s when it clicked for her. “I realized that [medicine] is where I am best equipped to serve. You can be great at many things, but where you provide the most impact, I feel like that’s where you should be. And I feel like science and medicine is that space for me.”

Mikaela went on to earn her undergraduate degree from the prestigious Howard University with a major in Biology and minor in Psychology. After graduating in 2020, she spent a year working in the Virginia Governor’s office as a special assistant to Dr. Janice Underwood, the Chief Officer of Diversity Equity and Inclusion for the state. In this role, Mikaela saw firsthand some of the existing healthcare disparities in her home state, and she described the emphasis that was placed on understanding the needs of different communities before proposing solutions to their problems. “I say that if you don’t know [the people in underserved communities], then you don’t know how to help them.” Mikaela came away from this experience with an increased determination to fight for underserved communities and ensure that they receive the resources that they ask for, not simply those prescribed to them by others. She returned to Howard University for Medical School in fall of 2021.

Mikaela’s decision to work in the end-of-life advocacy space is partially influenced by her experiences with her family's end-of-life planning. When one of her grandmothers was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, Mikaela was privy to her family’s discussions about end-of-life care, and she listened to her grandma weigh out all of her options with her family and her healthcare providers. “I feel like giving her all of her options gave her closure and a sense of pride and respect. And I feel like it brought peace to our family in the end.” Observing the positive power of patient directed care at the end of life inspired Mikaela to want to ensure that all families have full knowledge of end-of-life choices so that they can direct their own end-of-life journeys. 

Looking ahead to her internship experience, Mikaela expressed that she’s excited to learn about all aspects of end-of-life care for both personal and professional reasons. “This internship not only aligns with my professional career goals, but also my moral goals as a person. I feel like this internship will do a great job of allowing me to explore the disparities out there. I want to put myself in the best position as a medical professional to care for [older populations] and I think learning about these disparities that are going to affect the population that I one day want to treat is a good first step. So I’m very excited for this opportunity to explore these disparities in this program this summer.” 

Mikaela will be working with Dr. Rebecca Thoman, Compassion & Choices Doctors for Dignity (D4D) Director. D4D is a network of more than 2,000 physicians from across the country who support a full range of end-of-life options, including medical aid in dying, and are addressing end-of-life disparities through education, advocacy and empowerment. As an intern with this program, Mikaela will gain a deeper understanding of hospice and palliative care, advance care planning and the factors that contribute to end-of-life disparities. She will then have the opportunity to share that information with her peers and her community, offering more families the chance to share openly and honestly during a crucial time.