Internships at hospice center inspire Penn State Brandywine HDFS majors

Ashley Austin and Emily Battista of Penn State Brandywine

Penn State Brandywine seniors Ashley Austin (left) and Emily Battista at the Crossroads Hospice Plymouth Meeting location. 

Credit: Michael McDade

MEDIA, Pa. — Penn State Brandywine’s major in human development and family studies (HDFS) prepares students to work with people in all stages of life. While many HDFS majors complete their mandatory internship by working with children, two Brandywine students chose the opposite end of the spectrum: hospice and palliative care.

Seniors Ashley Austin and Emily Battista applied for internships at Crossroads Hospice, a hospice and palliative care center in the Philadelphia region. In the process, they found a broader understanding of their studies and direction for their future plans.

According to its website, Crossroads provides end-of-life care for families with loved ones who suffer from terminal illnesses or other serious health issues. Crossroads pairs physical care with personal, social and spiritual support and enrichment for its patients and their families.

Crossroads Hospice Internships

Penn State Brandywine seniors Ashley Austin and Emily Battista are completing internships at Crossroads Hospice, a hospice and palliative care center in the Philadelphia region.

Credit: Ashley Austin and Emily Battista

“Most people associate a hospice center with cancer patients,” said Battista, “but there’s also palliative care — that’s working with people who have serious illnesses that are getting treated, like dementia, Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s.”

Both Austin and Battista heard about the Crossroads internship program through a Penn State Brandywine career fair.

“I actually wanted to do hospice before I knew Brandywine had that connection,” Battista said. “When I heard Crossroads was at our career fair, I practically ran to the table and asked them to hire me.”

Austin did not have the same urge to work in hospice at first, but took the opportunity based on a professor’s advice.

“I told my professor I didn’t want to work with kids in my internship — that I wanted to try another stage of life,” Austin said. “When I told him I was interested in neuropsychology and neuroscience, he encouraged me to contact Crossroads.”

One year later, Austin began her internship at Crossroads alongside Battista. Both students found more personal and professional enrichment in the company than they ever imagined.

“I took classes at Brandywine about death, dying and transitions to adulthood,” said Battista. “They caught my eye at the time because they broadened my understanding of HDFS. I found plenty of applications for those in my internship.”

“You learn a lot about working with different fields,” added Austin. “At Crossroads, we work with social workers, bereavement, group therapy, volunteers, doctors, nurses and chaplains. It’s one big team and you can tell that they all have the same goals for the patients.”

Since most of Crossroads’ patients begin hospice care at difficult or emotional stages of life, Austin and Battista have also learned the importance of coupling education with empathy and personal support.

“You learn about human development in class,” said Austin, “but at Crossroads, I’m learning about the people behind that science. It pulls the academics together.”

“Empathy is so important,” said Battista. “We learned that at Brandywine, especially in HDFS classes, but it hit home here. This field is all about putting others first and learning how to self-care along the way.”

The very human aspects of hospice care have also shaped the students’ career plans. Battista plans on returning to hospice care after gaining other basic work experience, and Austin has found a more focused passion for medical research by working with the Crossroads patients.

“I’ve always been torn between research or clinical psychology,” Austin said. “But when I see the patients every day, it makes me want to get into the lab. I want to research and learn more about the diseases that bring those people to Crossroads. The patients going through Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s at Crossroads have become motivation.” 

Austin and Battista urge the HDFS majors behind them to use their required internship as a chance to explore the boundaries of their field.

“Going into HDFS, I thought it was all about working with kids, but this major is very broad,” said Battista. “You can work with any age and any time of life.”

“You’re getting a professional experience,” added Austin, “but you’re also getting a different life perspective. Use this internship to decide if an extension of HDFS is really for you. If it’s not, you’ll be wiser, and if it is, you’ll find a new world.”